For Red Wings fans, watching the final minutes of game five was painful. While Detroit fought tooth and nail to tie the game, the clock eventually expired with the score 2-1 in favor of the Nashville Predators.
The loss was made even more agonizing when the game concluded and the camera zoomed in on captain Nicklas Lidstom. Lidstrom may have laced up his skates for the final time last night, as many believe he will retire after 20 years as a Red Wing.
Head coach Mike Babcock gave credit to a Nashville team that he called “deeper than us,” but added that he thought his team made mistakes that simply didn’t happen during the regular season. A frustrated Babcock said he thought game five was the Wings’ “worst game of the series.”
I think Babcock was a bit dramatic in his assessment of the Red Wings, but he was spot on in saying that the mistakes piled up and were too much to overcome. Detroit gave Nashville several gift-wrapped goals in the series, something that the Predators did not do.
But the honest difference maker in this series can only be one man: Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne.
Rinne put on a show this series that very few can claim to have matched throughout the league’s history. Rinne allowed just nine goals in five games and boasted a save percentage of .944. While Detroit was able to get a very respectable 160 shots on goal, Rinne stopped nearly all of them. Playing a very aggressive style, Rinne was able to influence the game in more ways than simply stopping the puck. The Nashville netminder showed no fear of playing the puck well outside of his crease, and won his team the puck when they otherwise may not have had it.
But while Rinne was every bit as good as advertised, the Red Wings won’t be content with writing this series off due to one player. Detroit’s lack of depth and the absence of Darren Helm clearly hindered them. Without anyone outside their top six forwards who could score the puck, Detroit lacked the goal-scoring ability they needed in this series.
While Nashville was able to capitalize on the Red Wings’ mistakes and score timely goals, Detroit was not. The Wings never seemed to have an answer in this series when faced with adversity.
In game five, when Jiri Hudler scored the game-tying goal in the second period, Detroit seemed to grab the momentum. While the ice seemed to be slanted in their favor, the Wings
weren’t able to come up with the goal that would have given them a lead. Then the Predators scored during the first shift of the third period, and the momentum was gone.
Once faced with the one-goal deficit, Detroit could not find a way to claw their way to another goal.
I don’t like to point fingers, but that’s part of my job and there were several players who deserve to take some heat for this 4-1 series loss to Nashville.
First is Johan Franzen. Franzen led the team this regular season with 29 goals, but only tallied one in the playoffs. His lone goal was basically a fluke, as the puck went in off his skate. Franzen’s presence simply was not felt in this series.
Also deserving blame is Todd Bertuzzi. Really the only thing Bertuzzi did in this series was fight Shea Weber for his dirty hit on Henrik Zetterberg after the final whistle in game three. Tuzzi racked up more penalty minutes (nine) than shots (seven) in this series, and was a whopping -5 when on the ice.
While Pavel Datsyuk had a relatively quiet series, I believe that reflects the play of his linemates (see Franzen and Bertuzzi) more so than it reflects his play. Pavel still managed to lead his team with three points and two assists despite his team giving him little help.
Some will point fingers at defenseman Kyle Quincey, especially for his play in game five. I don’t think Quincey can be blamed too much, mostly because you can’t put too much stock in the play of your worst defenseman. As a whole, the defense played well in my mind other than the few breakdowns that they had. Nashville averaged only 23 shots per game in this series, which is good defense no matter how you look at it.
I thought that Henrik Zetterberg was far and away the best player on the ice for Detroit, with Jiri Hudler, Valtteri Filppula, and Brad Stuart also with good showings.
The story here was goaltending and depth. Rinne was far better in net than Detroit’s Jimmy Howard, and the third line of Nashville was superior to Detroit’s.
The Red Wings now enter a very long offseason that will be filled with questions. Lidstrom’s status is still up in the air, and it remains to be seen what GM Ken Holland has in mind for his team. Holland may be thinking that the Red Wings need to clean house, or he may be thinking that they simply need to add a player or two to become contenders.
The next weeks will not answer any questions, as the offseason won’t technically start until the Stanley Cup finals have concluded in June.
After a long season, the Red Wings now face the same task as their fans: getting over the emotional disappointment of an early playoff exit.
Follow me on twitter @ScottPeceny