SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – When the Detroit Red Wings were run out of the Western Conference Semifinals by San Jose in five games last year, they had no one to blame but themselves – and perhaps the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Red Wings felt a long, tough seven-game series with Phoenix – which included a third plane flight to Arizona when the Coyotes won Game 6 in Detroit and extended the series – to some of the zip and reserve they could have used down the line.
So with a chance to sweep the Coyotes in four games and rest their injured stars staring them in the face here Wednesday night, the Red Wings want to make sure those mangy Desert Dogs are following them back to Motown for another twirl around the ice.
"If we have extra time it'll be much better," said winger Pavel Datsyuk, who hasn't taken part in the last three Detroit workouts and struggled in Game 2, not getting a shot until the third period. "Kind of remember last year, we had Game 7 there last year. It takes lots of time, lots of travel, take our energy away."
The Wings saw their 4-2 win against Phoenix in Game 3 as the pivotal win of the series. Goals by Ruslan Salei and Drew Miller in the first 2:41 gave them a two-goal lead they never relinquished and quieted an Arizona crowd poised to will their team back into contention.
Goalie Jimmy Howard, a concern coming into the series, has totally outplayed counterpart Ilya Bryzgalov and was Detroit's best player in Game 3 with 28 saves as the Coyotes threw everything they had at the Detroit net, but had nothing to show for it.
So in Detroit's mind, it's time to put the Coyotes down. Coach Mike Babcock noted playoff series aren't seven games, they are a race to four wins – and Detroit is intent on getting there as fast as possible.
"The guys that have been here understand," said Babcock, harkening back to the 2008 Western Conference Finals against the Dallas Stars. "We were in this spot (up 3-0) with Dallas and had to go into Dallas and win a Game 6 to clinch the series.
"You just never want to let your foot off the gas. Why would you play more games than you have to?"
After fighting to the wire for playoff positioning in the regular season, the Wings could use the rest. Henrik Zetterberg is progressing, but is still at least a few days from playing on his injured knee. Johan Franzen is recovering from facial injuries and an ankle sprain, while Datsyuk and other Red Wings are stealing as much down time as possible between games.
"You want to give them as little hope as possible, as little life as possible," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "If we can come out with good push, it's something we'd like to do and try to take the edge out right away. The sooner you can close out a series the better you're going to be in the long run. Gives more days of rest.''
The Red Wings also have parts of their game that need honing. After killing all six Phoenix power plays in Game 1, Detroit has watch Phoenix score five times on the power play in the last two games.
"We've got to get back to doing a better job on their entries," Babcock said. "We gave up two entry goals (to David Schlemko and Ray Whitney in Game 3) where the sticks didn't do the right thing. We'll get that sorted out. We've got to be aggressive on the penalty kill."