After Game 4 the Detroit Red Wings boasted a 3-1 series lead and I was hopeful the Red Wings would advance, yet, not hopeful enough to declare the series over. This was, after all, a Red Wings team that with four games left in the regular season wasn’t in the playoffs. And this was a Chicago Blackhawks team that had been the clear cut best team in the league the whole year.
After Game 4 it appeared that the Red Wings ran out of gas. I don’t want to place blame, but when Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk combine for 1 goal and 2 assists in 7 games, you should consider yourselves lucky to win a game, let alone three. The big guns disappearing didn’t rest solely on Datsyuk and Z’s shoulders though. The Mule, Johan Franzen, scored one goal against the Blackhawks and it was during a game that was already 3-1. Valtteri Filppula didn’t do much offensively either, and then he got hurt early on in Game 7, hurting the Red Wings already lacking scoring depth. I’m not saying these guys didn’t contribute defensively, but you have to score goals to win hockey games, especially against a team as deep as the Blackhawks. I think the 3rd and 4th lines were pleasant surprises, while the 1st and 2nd lines were very disappointing. Gustav Nyquist and Damien Brunner were the key cogs offensively, and that is a problem. Nyquist and Brunner were very good and they will be key parts to the roster for the forseeable future, but if you’re going to win games against a very good team like the Chicago Blackhawks, you need to get production out of your workhorses.
To go with the lack of scoring, there were plenty of defensive zone breakdowns, and specifically they had major trouble breaking out of their zone. That was one of the issues that caused so many goals, they wouldn’t be able to clear the puck and the Blackhawks would eventually bury one of their chances. If it weren’t for Jimmy Howard, the Wings would have gotten run out of the barn every single night. He proved that he can be the guy to take them the distance, they just need more pieces around him to help out. I honestly started to wonder if his contract extension (6 years, $31.8 Million) was too little and that he deserved more money. This is probably the best thing to come of the playoff run, seeing that Howard can be the guy to take this team to the promise land.
Goals like this are inexcusable. A sloppy line change results in a 3 on 1 just cannot happen.
On a separate note, the Game 7 that went to overtime and had the controversial goal waved off, was the highest rated game that NBC Sports Network has ever had. Which means it’s a damn good thing that the Red Wings are moving to the Eastern Conference and won’t be playing the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs again, not unless they meet in the Stanley Cup Finals. Sure the Red Wings won’t have to travel as much and maybe less travel back and forth in the 1st round means that they will be fresher in the 2nd round and be able to compete. Who knows, a lot remains to be seen with the new conferences, but I digress.
The Red Wings weren’t physical enough down the stretch, and the lack of sturdy play in their defensive zone cost them. They couldn’t convert in the offensive zone, and their powerplay was next to atrocious. They choked away a 3-1 series lead and that sucks. BUT, it’s not the only thing to take away from this series. They showed that even with losing the best defenseman in the history of the NHL, and a lackluster group of free agent signings, they could still make the playoffs. Then they showed that once they got into the tournament they could compete with any team in the NHL.
Sure, they almost didn’t make it and with four games left in the regular season they were on the outside looking in, but they kept the streak alive by winning out. While it sucks that they had to lose their 3-1 and lose their final Western Conference series against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Red Wings performed admirably and did the city/fans proud. Most people didn’t expect them to get past Anaheim, let alone Chicago and they took the Blackhawks to the brink. And they did it all with a team that myself and some others, consider the worst Red Wings team assembled during the Playoff streak. Mike Babcock and the coaching staff did a fantastic job this year getting this team to the 2nd round of the playoffs.
The Red Wings have a lot of work to do this summer and I hope Ken Holland was just being coy when he said that he doesn’t expect to do anything that big this summer. Stay tuned for my post on what the Wings could do and what they should do. But what everyone should take away from this season, that even though the disappointment of the loss is there, the future is bright.