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THN.com Playoff Blog: Red Wings face long road back to Stanley Cup final

With a 6-1 win in Phoenix Tuesday, the Red Wings took the first round series against the Coyotes in seven games. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

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With a 6-1 win in Phoenix Tuesday, the Red Wings took the first round series against the Coyotes in seven games. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Detroit Red Wings survived a seven-game series with the Phoenix Coyotes, but can they weather the burden of being the Eastern-most team in the Western Conference?

I accept that North American geography has not changed in the past year, but the way the post-season is shaking out, there’s a very good possibility the Wings will have one of the most difficult roads ever, in a literal sense, to get back to the Stanley Cup.

The rise of Pacific coast teams this year has spun out a cruel reality for the Wings. In the first round, Detroit went back and forth to Phoenix, a trip that spans 1,685 miles one-way. As the visiting team in a seven-game series, the Wings made the trip five times.

Mercifully, the Wings went straight to San Jose for Round 2, but in a worst-case scenario – another seven games – they will be making a 2,070 mile trip four times. Now let’s assume Vancouver beats Chicago in the other Western semifinal.

The Canucks will once again be the home team, thanks to Detroit’s fifth seeding in the conference. The Wings would likely go straight from San Jose to Vancouver, but for a seven-gamer against the Canucks, the travel becomes another four sojourns across the continent at a distance of 1,963 miles per.

In each series, Detroit crosses three time zones.

Compare that to the road taken by San Jose: Four trips to Denver and back at a distance of 926 miles and one time zone. Vancouver also made four trips back and forth to L.A., crossing no time zones and traveling 1,080 miles.

While the Canucks will have to go cross-country to face the Blackhawks, Vancouver gets another break over the Wings in that Chicago is only a two-hour time difference from Van City (and west of Detroit).

Not to get all Sabermetrics here, but a Detroit-Vancouver Western Conference final would see the Wings enter the series with a minus-19 hour time-zone differential* and an accumulated travel deficit of 5,293 miles. And that’s not even counting the shorter flights they took from Phoenix to San Jose and a hypothetical San Jose to Vancouver flight between series.

Now, the Wings are a savvy, battle-tested team, but many of their best players – Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Brian Rafalski – turn or turned 37 or older this year. If the Wings do find their way back to the Cup this season, they certainly will have earned it.

*(Detroit would have had 27 hours of time changes to Vancouver’s eight.)

NEW ERA?
Bucky Gleason of the Buffalo News has already written this, but I was thinking the same thing: the Sabres can’t win with Tim Connolly. The oft-injured center did manage to stay healthy during the first round series against Boston, but fans probably wished he had been unavailable. Connolly tallied no goals and one point in six games, was a team-worst minus-2 (the only other ‘minus’ Sabre was Jason Pominville at minus-1) and third worst with seven giveaways.

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In a more general sense, I wonder if Buffalo’s strategy of ‘nine forwards who can score, but none are point-per-gamers’ has been exposed once and for all. Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek have been point-per-gamers, but not for a couple years now. And with Vanek injured for much of the Boston series, the Sabres’ offense was thrown into disarray.

Perhaps a more traditional high-end top six with a shutdown line and an energy line would behoove the Buff. Sellout crowds, a salary cap and a billionaire owner eliminate any excuses for not drawing talent. And hey, Ilya Kovalchuk needs a home…

THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.

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Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays. 

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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