Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Strike Three: Red Wings Eliminated in Dramatic 2-1 Overtime Loss

We were never even supposed to be here.

The Detroit Red Wings were outsiders looking in for a good portion of the regular season.  Retirements, departures, and injuries had forced them to play a very young a very inexperienced brand of hockey, something Hockeytown was not accustomed to.  There was much frustration and much doubting as to what this team could actually achieve, and if was going to be the true 'Transition Year' where the Wings finally dropped off for the first time in forever.

We were never even supposed to be here.

Then, with a week left, Detroit found themselves at the cusp.  The chances weren't great, but with a little luck and a lot of hard work, it was possible for Detroit to squeak into the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive year. What we witnessed that week was four games of possessed Red Wings players fighting tooth and nail, and pulling off the improbable: a complete four-game sweep of the entire week, and a 7th seed in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Players like Smith, Brunner, Nyquist, Andersson and--to an extent--DeKeyser were going to taste the intensity of playoff hockey in the NHL for the first time.

We were never even supposed to be here.

With a miraculous entry into the postseason, we were rewarded with a series against the always-bruising Anaheim Ducks, 2nd seed in the West.  The Wings were under duress from the get-go, and the Ducks made life miserable for Detroit.  Pushed to elimination, the Red Wings responded and forced a Game 7 by winning in overtime in Game 6.  Finally, Detroit swung the momentum fully in their favor, and against all odds they closed out the Ducks and booked their trip to the 2nd round against the Chicago Blackhawks.

We were never even supposed to be here.

The Hawks were the best team in the NHL all year. They were strong offensively, strong defensively, had size, had speed, and had depth.  There was no hope for the Red Wings, as far as most of the sporting world was concerned.  The opening game was a 4-1 blowout and it seemed like the nay-sayers were correct.  Then, the unthinkable happened: Detroit roared back and won not one, not two, but three consecutive games and had put the league's best on the brink before many people could blink.  It was inconceivable.  Inevitably, of course, came the push back from Chicago.  The Hawks were the same solid team they had been all year, and the series would be pushed to a deciding Game 7 at the United Centre.  Still, the media and many fans had concluded that the series was a s good as over now, that Detroit had no chance of salvaging their golden opportunity to advance after blowing it on the two previous games.

Chicago drew first blood, and all the prophets out there appeared to have been on the mark.  The minutes went by, and as the Wings went into the 3rd period of Game 7 down by a goal, they responded.  The captain, Henrik Zetterberg banged home the puck off a great feed from Gustav Nyquist, and suddenly, very early in the 3rd, it was a brand new hockey game.  The Wings would not go quietly into the night.  Late into the period, it seemed like all was lost as Chicago managed to rip a shot past goalie Jimmy Howard, but a whistle behind the play had been blown and the goal would not stand.  The Wings were given one more lease on life.  Detroit responded furiously, but time would expire, and regulation would solve nothing.  This game 7 would need Overtime.

That is when it happened.  It is often said of hockey that one bad bounce either way can change an entire game.  In this case, it ended a series.  With Chicago pressing, Hawks skater Brent Seabrook pressed toward the blueline.  Detroit defender Niklas Kronwall did not try to hold the line, choosing to back off and stay between Seabrook and Howard.  Having been given the extra room, Seabrook advanced toward the high-slot area and let his shot fly.  Kronwall turned to the side and stuck out his back leg, the heel of which made contact with the puck.  That slight impact would be enough to alter the course of the puck and send it just shy of Howard's reaching glove, sailing into the back of the net.  It was over, Detroit had been eliminated from this year's playoffs.

When you look back at it, it's quite a tale.  And just think: We were never even supposed to be here.

This team performed beyond the expectations of essentially anyone who even remotely follows hockey.  The experience our young players gained from these past 14 games will be invaluable.  They have known great victory, and now they have known great defeat.  They will grow from this and they will mature, but most importantly: They will improve as a result of this.

There will be time enough to look back and analyze what went wrong and what could have been better, but for now, it's simply time to thank the Detroit Red Wings organization for another exciting year of hockey, and prepare for what awaits us in the future as fans.  From what we saw over these 2 series, I'd say the future looks pretty damned bright...

So for the final time this season, and with eyes turned towards a promising future:

Let's Go Red Wings!!