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Published: Wednesday, 4/14/2010

Wings not overlooking Coyotes

ASSOCIATED PRESS

GLENDALE, Ariz. - When the Coyotes and Red Wings last met, Phoenix rallied from a two-goal deficit in the final 90 seconds of regulation to post a 5-4 overtime victory.

The result evened the season series at two wins apiece.

But neither team is putting much stock in that game - or the season's other three for that matter - as they prepare for their first-round playoff series which starts today.

Eleven weeks have passed since that Jan. 26 meeting and neither the Red Wings nor Coyotes are the same team they were that day.

Detroit was still dealing with myriad injuries. Those injured this season included several of the Red Wings' best players. Their top nine scorers have missed a combined 75 games.

Phoenix has since beefed up its lineup, adding five new players, including forwards Lee Stempniak and Wojtek Wolski, who each have 18 points in 18 games with the Coyotes.

"They've improved the depth of their team, there's no question about it," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.

Detroit finally started to get healthy around the Olympic break, and Phoenix revamped its roster just after at the trade deadline. Both played their best hockey down the stretch. Since the Vancouver games, the Red Wings (16-3-2) and Coyotes (13-4-2) have the top two winning percentages in the Western Conference.

That's where the similarities end, though.

While looking at this year alone suggests the series will be competitive, history favors the Red Wings.

Detroit is in the postseason for the 19th straight time and is aiming for its third straight trip to the Stanley Cup finals. Phoenix is making its first playoff appearance since 2002 and hasn't won a series since 1987.

"If I'm coaching them I say that experience is overrated and because I'm coaching us I think experience is important," Babcock said.

The Coyotes know Detroit's postseason success gives the Red Wings an advantage, but they feel it's not one they can't overcome.

"They've got a lot of experience and world-class players, and it'll be a challenge for us," Stempniak said.

Phoenix has been defying conventional wisdom all season. Despite former owner Jerry Moyes taking the franchise into Chapter 11 bankruptcy last offseason, starting camp without a coach, the NHL purchasing the team when no buyer could be found that would keep the team in Glendale, and its future in Arizona still in doubt, the Coyotes have put together their best season ever with 50 wins and 107 points.

"They've been probably the biggest surprise of the year in a good way, with all the stuff the organization went through this summer, and even not having a coach at the start of training camp, which is odd," Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart said. "But they found a way to pull it all together and built a lot of confidence, obviously. They've got a good young team, and we're going to have to be ready to play a team that's fast and has that confidence."



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