DETROIT – Road teams have ruled in the Detroit-Phoenix series.
The Coyotes scored their first three goals on special teams and Ilya Bryzgalov made 31 saves in a 5-2 win over the Red Wings on Sunday that forced Game 7.
It also gave the home team a 2-4 record in the first-round series.
Fourth-seeded Phoenix hopes the trend doesn’t hold true Tuesday night against fifth-seeded Detroit.
“I said it before the series, home-ice advantage is only good if it comes down to a Game 7,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “We worked hard to get home-ice advantage. If you’re going to play a Game 7, I’d rather play it in front of our home fans.”
Joe Louis Arena was packed with fired-up fans for Game 6, and they were stunned and silent when Phoenix took a 1-0 lead on a short-handed goal 4:10 in to spark the win.
The Red Wings had a chance to advance at home?where they lost the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh in Game 7 last year in a finals rematch?and drew three penalties within the first five minutes of the game.
Instead of taking advantage with a goal or two and feeding off the crowd, Detroit defenceman Brad Stuart nonchalantly carried the puck out of his end and Lauri Korpikoski made him pay for it. Korpikoski snatched the puck and beat Jimmy Howard with the first shot he faced.
“Took the crowd right out of it,” Phoenix’s Keith Yandle said.
It also seemed to stun the Red Wings, who suddenly let the Coyotes dominate on special teams.
Mathieu Schneider snapped Phoenix’s 0-for-19 skid on the power play with a goal early in the second for a 2-0 lead, and Radim Vrbata scored with the man advantage midway through the period to restore the two-goal edge.
Detroit, meanwhile, missed opportunities by going 0 for 5 on the power play and let the Coyotes enjoy a 3-for-6 rate of success with a man advantage.
“They won the special teams battle,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “That sucked the life out of our team.”
Howard made 24 saves, but he gave up at least four goals for the third time in the series. He allowed only one the previous two games as Detroit took a 3-2 lead.
A finalist for the Calder Trophy?given to the NHL’s top rookie?Howard is about to play in his first win-or-go-home game in the NHL.
“No, I’m not concerned about him at all,” Babcock said. “We’re real comfortable with Howie. You can’t win Game 7 until you get there.”
The Coyotes went ahead 1-0 on their first shot Sunday and beat Howard four more times.
“They got lucky,” Howard said. “We hit a couple posts.”
The Red Wings also often hit Bryzgalov’s stick, skates and pads, including 10 times in the first 10 minutes.
“Bryz was excellent,” Tippett said. “That’s what he’s done for us all year.”
The Coyotes have been a feel-good story this season after enduring tumultuous times that threatened the team’s long-term future in Arizona. Now the Western Conference’s fourth-seeded team has a chance to eliminate the two-time defending conference champions with one home win.
Phoenix’s previous owner took the franchise into bankruptcy last year, leading to the NHL buying the team in November. Wayne Gretzky resigned as coach nine days before the opener, putting Tippett behind the bench.
The Coyotes, in the post-season for the first time since 2002, are 0-5 in the first round of the playoffs. The franchise hasn’t advanced since 1987, when it was the Winnipeg Jets.
The Red Wings are in the playoffs for the 19th straight time, the longest active streak in major professional sports. They’ve won nine series?including the 2008 Stanley Cup finals?since a first-round exit four years ago in Babcock’s first season.
Babcock bristled at the notion that the Coyotes won’t have pressure to win in what has already been a successful season for them.
“They’ve got something to lose,” Babcock said. “Both teams do.”