Series breakdown: Red Wings (3) vs. Coyotes (6)
Regular season series: tied 2-2
Snapshot: Twelve months after these teams last met in the postseason, not much seems to be different. Detroit is coming off another 100-point season and is in the playoffs for an astonishing 20th straight year while the Coyotes played another campaing in front of mostly close friends and relatives (the team finished 29th in attendance, moving up one spot from dead last). There figures to be a lot of red mixed in with the Coyotes-Winnipeg Jets tradition of a "whiteout" -- just like last year when the Wings prevailed in a seventh game at Jobing.com Arena.
The Wings enter this series without top forward Henrik Zetterberg, who is sidelined by a knee injury, and that puts more pressure on the wondrous Pavel Datsyuk, who recently returned from sickbay himself. But coach Mike Babcock still has plenty of offense with Johan Franzen, Dan Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom and a seemingly endless conveyor belt of forwards who are always well-versed in two-way fundamentals. Then there's Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, still as scary as ever while putting shots on net from the blue line.
Phoenix has the edge, on paper, in goal with Ilya Bryzgalov over Jimmy Howard. But the Coyotes still fall well short of the the Wings in gravitas -- they have yet to win a playoff series since moving to Phoenix. And there still isn't enough firepower up front to put a scare into this been-there-done-that Wings group.
Spotlight's on: Shane Doan. He's one of hockey's good guys, the longtime captain of a long-suffering franchise and solid ambassador for the sport. But the playoff numbers are glaring: just 14 points (seven goals) in 35 career postseason games for Winnipeg-Phoenix. He was the only Coyote to reach the 20-goal mark this season, and he has 296 for his career. But too often, the Coyotes have gone wanting from their leader in the clutch. If Phoenix is finally to win a playoff series, Doan has to rise up.
X-Factor for Red Wings: Niklas Kronwall. The Wings say the hard-hitting defenseman will be ready for Game 1 after missing the final 10 days with the dreaded "upper-body" injury. If Kronwall is rusty, it will put that much more pressure on Detroit's solid -- but aged -- defense. But if he plays, he'll bring the kind of physical presence the Wings sorely lacked down the stretch.
X-Factor for Coyotes: Keith Yandle. He remains mostly anonymous to the public, but this Boston native has an outside chance at winning the Norris Trophy this year. Yandle was plus-12 and put up 59 points, though he did struggle offensively down the stretch (no goals, two assists his last 11 games). If he gets it going again, especially on the power play against a Wings PK that slipped to 17th, Phoenix has a chance.
The pick: Red Wings in five.
FARBER: Canucks dressed for success