It’s been a long regular season, an odd regular season for most Red Wings fans, but here we are on the opening day of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Six weeks ago the Red Wings were out of the playoffs. Today they’re the Western Conference’s fifth seed, with a record better than six of the eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference (and only a point back of the New Jersey Devils). That jump came courtesy of a 16-3-2 run after the Olympic Break, including a stretch of twelve games in which they earned at least a point.
The Wings come into the playoffs on a roll but in an unfamiliar position. They haven’t started a postseason run on the road since 1991, when they were the Norris Division’s third seed facing the second-seeded St. Louis Blues. They lost that series, 4-3.
Detroit hasn’t been the lower-seeded team in any series since the 2000 Western Conference Semifinals, when the fourth-seeded Wings lost to the third-seeded Colorado Avalanche in five games.
Additionally, the Red Wings haven’t headed into a playoff riding a rookie goalie since 1994, when Chris Osgood took over for Bob Essensa as Detroit fell to the San Jose Sharks, 4-3, in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
While six weeks ago no one knew if the Red Wings would be in the playoffs today, a year ago no one knew if the Phoenix Coyotes would even exist right now.
The Coyotes are the NHL’s Cinderella story, finishing fourth in the Western Conference despite a year of ownership by the league itself after the team declared bankruptcy last spring.
Wayne Gretzky was replaced as head coach by Dave Tippett, the favorite to win the Jack Adams Trophy as the league’s best coach. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov had a Vezina Trophy-worthy season.
The Red Wings were unbeaten in regulation against the Coyotes this season, going 2-0-2. However all four of those games came while Detroit was battling injuries and before Phoenix added veteran depth at the trade deadline.
Detroit has added forwards Justin Abdelkader and Brad May back to their roster but head coach Mike Babcock won’t be making any lineup changes for tonight’s Game One, choosing to ride a winning lineup.
Phoenix, meanwhile, is expected to start the series without former Red Wing Robert Lang, out with an upper-body injury.
Game time tonight is 10:00 on FSD and Versus.