Even at playoff time, it was hard to separate off-ice business from on-ice action in the Detroit-Phoenix series. The specter of possible relocation for the Coyotes hung over their Western Conference quarter-final like a rumor in a high school hallway. The Red Wings, though, made sure that, in a hockey sense, the Coyotes did indeed go away yet again in what is now an NHL-record of 12 straight fruitless postseason appearances dating back to 1988 when the franchise was in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
That futility may be historic, but in this series, the epic fail was that of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. After another sturdy season in the desert, he didn't give the Coyotes a chance to beat a Red Wings' squad playing with energy and conviction. Whereas during the season, Bryzgalov's consistency was the difference in the Coyotes' being a playoff team, against the Wings' he was equally culpable for their exit in straight sets. When his team needed a save in the worst way, he was seemingly at his worst. His demeanor was one of bewilderment, not battle.
In fairness, Mark Specter quoted Bryzgalov on twitter after the game with this admission: "Goalies have two ways to be. To be a hero. To be a goat. I am goat."
I admire his honesty, but it's never good when a goalie has more candor than saves, but that certainly was the case for Bryzgalov in this series. In keeping with fairness, the Red Wings played inspired hockey. It wasn't all about their opponent's inability to rise up in the moment. The play of Pavel Datsyuk was again spellbinding, as he dished another no-look, jaw-dropping pass that Tomas Holmstrom deposited. The energy supplied by Darren Helm, Drew Miller and Justin Abdelkader proved infectious. And goaltender Jimmy Howard made the timely, necessary save when it mattered, battling on each and every chance. He made two classic clutch saves in the third period when the score was 3-3 that defined successful playoff netminding.
And then there is the business away from the rink that continued to close in as this series played out, however swiftly. The saga of the Coyotes' sale has been a two-year soap opera of league ownership and failed bid attempts. A resolution is at hand, one way or the other. We are within weeks, if not days, of finally finding out if the city of Glendale, AZ keeps the Desert Dogs or loses them to the city from whence they came. Don't get me wrong. I don't think the political wrangling, soft bond market, or the prospect of relocation had any bearing on the series. The Red Wings played great; the Coyotes did not measure up.
In this series, there were higher expectations and lots of positive chatter at the outset on the part of the Coyotes. Throughout, plenty of players played hard and showed they cared -- particularly captain Shane Doan, who was the only Coyote still remaining from the Jets' days in Winnipeg. As the series wore on, the early optimism shifted to doubt as measured by the uncharacteristic errors plaguing the Coyotes' usually stout defensive play. Ultimately, none of it really mattered. They lost the series to the better team as outside forces proved too much.