Thursday, March 18, 2004

GameDay: @ Phoenix (20-31-16-6, 62) 9:00 EST

Tonight is the fourth and final match between the Wings and Phoenix this season. It is also the start of a five-game, eight-day, West trip for the Wings, taking them to Phoenix, LA, Anaheim, San Jose, and Colorado. Hey, maybe on the Wings' downtime, Sergei can invite the guys to his not-making-the-playoffs party? January 16, the teams tied 3-3 at the Joe. Cujo was in net and Henrik Zetterberg tied the game up with 1:44 left in the third. January 24, the Wings lost 5-2 at Glendale Arena. It was the Brian Boucher Show, as the record-breaking goaltender had 44 saves on 46 shots. February 18, the Wings turned the table on the Coyotes with a 5-2 win at the Joe. Legace got the start and Draper had two goals in the last 1:50. In that game, Hull tied Dave Andreychuk's NHL record for most career power-play goals with his 263rd. So the season series is tied at 1-1-1, with this final matchup at Phoenix deciding the bragging rights between the teams. The Coyotes have been out of the playoff picture for awhile, with their current 62 points to eighth seed Nashville's 80. As a result, the organization fired Coach Bob Francis on February 24th, and promoted assistant Rick Bowness as an interim coach. The Coyotes are struggling big time, winless in their last thirteen decisions at 0-8-2-3. This could be due to the revolving-door of a roster down in Phoenix. The following addresses changes in the second half of the season. They traded away Jan Hrdina, Sean Burke, Branko Radivojevic, Mike Sillinger, Chris Gratton, Ossi Vaananen, and Brian Savage. They acquired Derek Morris, Brent Johnson, and Mike Comrie. The deficit of players traded to players acquired reflects the salary-dumping mindset of a team that has realized it will not make the playoffs and is preparing itself for post-CBA madness. They have been shuffling players in and out of their AHL affiliation in Springfield, which is, by the way, set to expire at the end of this season. The Wings have been shuffling players in and out of their AHL affiliation in Grand Rapids, but not for the same reasons as Phoenix. Yesterday, the Wings recalled defenseman Anders Myrvold from the Griffins. The Wings are poised to make a serious playoff run, but injuries have forced them to dip into their depth of talent and call on the young guys of the organization to fill in for the regulars. As it stands, the Wings are at first place in the NHL with 96 points, with Tampa Bay flanking with 95. But the Wings need to zoom in to the Western Conference picture before they get their eyes on winning a Presidents Trophy, since the Avs have awoken from relative mediocrity and are 5-3-1-1 in their last ten. The Wings lead the Avs by only three points. The race for the Western Conference title will most likely come down to the away-home series versus the Avs, March 25th and 27th. These are the final meetings between the Wings and Avs this season, with the series tied at 1-1. Coach Dave Lewis has indicated that Curtis Joseph probably will not play tonight. He had an appointment with an ankle specialist recently, and has complained of soreness. Manny Legace is expected to get the start tonight. Injury Updates: The Wings' parade of injuries continues with the recent shoulder injury of Derian Hatcher in his fifth game back with the Wings. The extent of the injury appears minor, as Hatcher is listed as day-to-day with a bruised shoulder. The injury came as a result of a third period collision with 6" 3', 232 lb Flame Chris Simon. Some good news is that Pavel Datsyuk has been lobbying Coach Lewis to play, and might play tonight versus the Coyotes. I don't expect the Wings to rush Pavel into the mix though, since our depth has allowed us to get along fine without him. Pavel skated with the Wings for the first time Tuesday morning. Lewis on Pavel's status: "I'd hope (he'd play) by the end of the road trip." Kris Draper, who hasn't played since suffering a partially torn left rotator cuff March 3 in practice, also skated with the team Tuesday morning. Drapes on how the shoulder feels: "I did a little bit of passing. Today was probably the first day that I could do that. Each time I tried to pass a little bit harder, just to kind of see where I can go with it. It felt good. The way it looks, I think every day (trainer Piet Van Zant) is going to kind of give me a little bit more rope to kind of try to push it." Coach Lewis has his status as "week to week.� New Wing Robert Lang hopes to skate today. He is hopeful, yet patient: "You never know. A miracle could happen, and it would be perfect. But I think at this point I'll just take it nice and easy. There's no sense in rushing it to play the last four games or last two games." Award Winning FSN? FSN is not exactly award winning, coming from a Wings fan who is often boisterously critical of the network's coverage. But the voice of the Wings' play-by-play and the endless pool of Red Wings knowledge and trivia, Ken Daniels, is, as he was named Michigan Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. Through the satellite blips and pixelation issues, I couldn't agree more that Ken Daniels is a top notch sportscaster. His partner in crime, Mickey Redmond, also has gotten some recognition for his work as color commentator in the past. He was named the Best Color Commentator in the Detroit News' "The Best of Michigan for 2003." Playoff Picture: Clubs officially eliminated from playoff contention include Phoenix, Chicago, and Columbus in the West, and Washington and Pittsburgh in the East. Soon to be eliminated are Minnesota and Anaheim in the West, and the Rangers, Carolina, Atlanta, and Florida in the East. Clubs that are fighting for playoff contention outside the current eight seeds are LA and Edmonton in the West, and Buffalo in the East. Currently, five of six Canadian clubs are set to make the playoffs, with Edmonton on the bubble in the West. And right now, Toronto and Ottawa are fourth and fifth seeds, respectively, in the East, which would set the stage for a first round battle between the rivals.


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