After the upstart seasons both teams had, it was fitting on the opening night of the playoffs to see the Phoenix Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche serve notice they wouldn’t be the respective pushovers of the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks.
Both Western Conference underdogs (yes, everybody knows Phoenix is the fourth seed and Detroit, the fifth, but most prognosticators have the Red Wings as a favorite) came out Wednesday night showing little to none of the post-season jitters often ascribed to them beforehand by analysts.
And by the end of the night, the Coyotes beat the Wings 3-2 and the Sharks fell 2-1 to the Avs.
In Glendale, Ariz., a veteran Detroit squad had the Coyotes on their heels early in Game 1 – including goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who let in a real softie to Tomas Holmstrom to open the scoring – and had a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes of play.
However, the Yotes came out composed to start the second, matched or bested Detroit’s intensity more often than not and were rewarded for their desert doggedness with Wojtek Wolski’s game-tying goal at 6:15 of the period.
Then, with a Detroit penalty winding down, defenseman Derek Morris – like Wolski, one of GM Don Maloney’s masterful trade deadline acquisitions – potted a power play marker early in the third to give Phoenix its first lead.
From there, rather than buckle under the weight of the Red Wings’ aura, the Coyotes continued to take it to their opposition, outshooting Detroit 20-10 in the final frame and retaining home ice advantage with the victory.
Meanwhile, the Avs came into San Jose’s raucous HP Pavilion arena and traded chances with the home side for the better part of the first period; neither team scored, but the fact Colorado emerged unscathed – and less than intimidated – appeared to bolster the Avs’ confidence and boost the Sharks’ angst levels.
That’s certainly the way the two teams played the second period: the Avalanche used their speed and physical play to earn two man advantages – and on their second power play, Colorado D-man John-Michael Liles put his team in front at 12:38 with a screened shot from the blueline.
That lead, combined with the three measly shots the Sharks managed on Avs goalie Craig Anderson in the middle frame, brought out the hometown boo-birds before the third period began.
The catcalls from the crowd disappeared at 7:59 of the third when Ryan Clowe tied the game for San Jose, yet returned with 10 times the vigor after rookie T.J. Galiardi tipped in the game-winner with 49.2 seconds left in regulation.
Ultimately, the patience and savvy that comes from experience may be the savior of the Red Wings and Sharks.
For one night, though, the Coyotes and Avalanche proved that experience isn’t always a prerequisite for success.
THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
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Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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