PHOENIX – The 17,000 fans in white T-shirts made the inside of Jobing.com Arena look like the inside of a popcorn popper. Fuelled by the energy, the Phoenix Coyotes issued a series of board-rattling hits on the Red Wings.
Detroit’s response? A shrug and two spirit-crushing goals.
Ruslan Salei and Drew Miller had goals 44 seconds apart to squelch Phoenix’s initial flurry, and the Red Wings scored early in each period to push the Coyotes to the brink of elimination with a 4-2 win Monday night.
“We came out and weathered their storm,” Miller said. “They came out hitting and we got two big goals quick. From there, we just kept going. Every time they came hard, we found a way to push back and keep going.”
Detroit levelled the Coyotes in its last playoff game in the desert, eliminating them with a 6-1 win in Game 7 of last year’s first round. The Red Wings put the lights out on Phoenix’s whiteout this time with the two goals in the opening 2:41, another by Valtteri Filppula nearly as quickly in the second period and Johan Franzen’s goal 45 seconds into the third.
Jimmy Howard made it stand with some spectacular saves, giving Detroit a chance to complete the sweep Wednesday in Phoenix after struggling to get past the Coyotes last season.
“Today’s a huge swing game, let’s face it,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “If you’re 2-1 or 3-0, 3-0 is tough. As much as these guys are mentally tough, you’re over there and you know it’s 3-0 and that’s a monster to climb.”
The Coyotes fell behind 4-0 in Game 2 in Detroit and, despite the raucous atmosphere, were in a quick hole again. Unable to fight its way back again, Phoenix is left with little besides a face-saving chance in what could be their last game in the desert with a murky ownership issue still hovering.
David Schlemko and Ray Whitney scored for the Coyotes, both on the power play.
“We couldn’t have asked for any worse start because we had good energy, we were excited to play tonight, and then you get kicked in the teeth like that early,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said.
The Red Wings have skated all over Phoenix throughout the series, their waves of scoring lines keeping the Coyotes on their heels. And they’ve done it without Henrik Zetterberg, their leading scorer who missed his third straight game with a sprained left knee.
Pavel Datsyuk made up for Zetterberg’s absence the first two games, having a hand in five of his team’s eight goals (two goals, three assists). The rest of the talented Red Wings took their turn in Game 3, making it look as though there were six skaters in front of Howard at times.
And, boy, did they take the life out of the Coyotes.
Phoenix rallied with three power-play goals to make Game 2 close and hoped to carry that little bit of momentum back home, where a whiteout in the desert was waiting.
Inspired by the atmosphere, the Coyotes came out hitting, sending Detroit’s players into the boards every chance they got.
The Red Wings absorbed the body blows and responded with a couple of shots to the head.
Salei scored 1:57 in on a one-timer from beyond the right circle after Darren Helm knocked Coyotes defenceman Ed Jovanovski off the puck behind the goal. Miller added to it 44 seconds later, redirecting a shot by Niklas Kronwall past stunned Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov that gave the big pockets of red-clad Detroit fans reason to be more vocal than they already were.
“We wanted to get out to a good start,” Detroit defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We knew they were going to come out hard and put on a good forecheck on us, and it was great the whole team responded with two quick goals on them.”
Howard turned back several good chances late in the first period, including consecutive kick saves on close-range shots, and Filppula drained the life from the building 2:50 into the second, taking a few seconds to gather the puck before flipping a shot past Bryzgalov.
Schlemko added a little life by lifting a power-play goal past Howard late in the second period, giving the Coyotes at least a little momentum.
Franzen, who was questionable afterbeing bloodied by Shane Doan on a check into the boards in Game 2, took it right back, scoring on a breakaway before many of the fans had returned to their seats in the third.
“In that third period, we got one on the first shift and that kind of killed their momentum right away,” Lidstrom said. “It was huge for us to get that fourth one fairly early in the third.”
Phoenix tried to come back.
The Coyotes picked up the pressure and Whitney scored on another power play—Phoenix’s fifth with a man advantage in two games—on a rebound that caromed off the back of Salei past Howard. Phoenix just couldn’t get another after pulling Bryzgalov with two minutes left, leaving a monumental hill to climb.
“Those early goals take a little bit of the wind out of your sails,” Whitney said. “We fought hard to try and stay in it, but they are a good hockey team over there and when they get the lead it is even more difficult for you.”
Notes: Jovanovski returned after leaving Game 2 with an upper-body injury. … Franzen, who didn’t practice Sunday after the shot by Doan, scored his second goal of the playoffs. … Phoenix D Derek Morris still hasn’t played in the series with an upper-body injury.