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by Richard Kincaide
You want to know why the Red Wings lost 5-2 Sunday when they had the chance, at home, to end their opening round series against the Phoenix Coyotes, right? Here's why. It was all a matter of four bad plays:
Detroit defenseman Brad Stewart coughed it up when he was the last man back and in hockey when you cough it up when you are last man back the guy to whom you coughed it up has a breakaway on the goal you are trying to defend. In this case the coughee was Lauri (seriously, Lauri?) Korpikoski and he, Lauri, finished his breakaway with a shorthanded goal on his and the Coyotes led 1-0 on their first shot on goal of the game--an emphatic end just four minutes in to Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard's run of 64 saves on 65 shots (.985 save percentage) dating to the dodgy goal he allowed in Game 3 a week to the day earlier, the final goal in Phoenix's 4-2 win. Neither Drew Miller in the 2nd period nor Dan Cleary in the 3rd were willing to lay down in front of Phoenix slapshots from out near the blue line when Detroit was on the penalty kill and both shots, the first by Mathieu Schneider and the other by Keith Yandle, ended up behind Howard when they should not have got to the net in the first place. Teams that want to win in the playoffs lay out in front of shots. They just do. There's a code involved here (or perhaps it's a credo, I can never keep the two straight) and the Wings failed in both instances to live up to it. Nicklas Lidstrom--who lost his man on the 3rd goal Phoenix scored last Sunday, the game-winner for the Coyotes--lost his man in front of the net again yesterday during yet another Phoenix power play and that man scored, although in fairness to one of the greatest defenseman in the history of hockey, Lidstrom did have his pick of not one, but two wide-open-in-front-of-the-goal Coyotes from whom to choose to defend after Stewart made a(nother) bad decision with the puck and turned it over in his own zone off a Detroit face-off win. Anyway, that's four of the goals given up by Detroit. The fifth hit somebody and went in, one of those "can't do anything about it" goals. The others were sloppy goals-against: those not befitting a team deserving to win and not particularly indicative of a team wanting to win. What was strange was that the Wings seemed, even when they trailed 1-0 after one period, to have it all well in hand. They outshot, outchanced, and outhit the Coyotes in the first. They had three power play chances in the first five minutes of the game, including a long stretch of a 5-on-3 advantage, plus the power play during which they permitted Phoenix to open the scoring. Then, in the second period, it was Phoenix that got the power play chances and the Coyotes, after failing to score a power play goal since they got three of them in game 1, cashed in. Detroit never got another power play opportunity in the game.
The road team has won four of six games in this series, an anomaly in any best-of-seven in any sport. What does it mean? We won't be able to say for a couple of days. The Wings play game 7 in this series, on the road, Tuesday night.