It’s hard to imagine that for a team with 11 Stanley Cups, a loss in the Western Conference semifinals could be considered a good season.
But it was.
It’s hard to imagine that a team with such prestige and history could fall short of reaching even the Conference Finals, let alone the Stanley Cup Finals, and leave the rink with heads held high.
But they should.
The Detroit Red Wings blew a 3-1 series lead against the Chicago Blackhawks, a lead that Chicago had overcome just once in their storied history. They lost game six after leading 2-1 entering the third. They lost game seven after scoring in the third to tie it and seemed to be the team of destiny after a Niklas Hjalmarsson goal was waved off with less than two minutes to play that would have given the Hawks a 2-1 advantage.
Some will say Detroit choked.
I say that is anything but the truth.
In fact, I’d argue anyone that in 2013, the Detroit Red Wings had one of the greatest seasons in their 87 years of existence.
Sure, their runs to the Cup in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008 were special, and I don’t mean to diminish the accomplishments of those teams. But with players like Yzerman and Lidstrom and Federov anchoring their lineup, winning it all was hardly a Cinderella story.
In 2013, with names like Abdelkader, Brunner, Kindl and Nyquist, the Red Wings were able to make a run that rivals any the team has made. First, they fought tooth and nail to earn a playoff spot for the franchise’s 22nd straight year, something unrivaled in any sport today. Then, they were able to fight back in a series against a talented and well-coached Anaheim Ducks team, winning in seven games after being down 3-2. Then, with all odds against them, they fought 12 rounds against the President’s Trophy-winning Blackhawks, a team they could not beat during the regular season, taking them seven games when nobody gave them a chance to push it past five.
2013 was a year of injuries and inexperience for Detroit: they lost more man-games to injury than any other NHL team in the lockout-shortened year. They lost Carlo Colaiacovo, Todd Bertuzzi, Darren Helm and Mikael Samuelsson for nearly the entire season, while a host of other players missed multiple games.
Forced to bring the likes of Joakim Andersson, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Smith up from their AHL-affiliate Griffins, Detroit’s magical playoff streak was destined to end with just 48 games to play.
But it didn’t.
The Wings found a way to claw their way into the playoffs on the shoulders of Jimmy Howard, who played his best season as a professional behind a patchwork defense that broke down time and time again. If not for Howard’s dazzling glove saves, this team would have been watching from home long ago. But instead, Howard willed his team to the postseason,
And he wasn’t done once they got there.
Jimmy made a whopping 461 saves, allowing just 2.44 goals per game and saved 92.4 percent of shots thrown his way, all career postseason bests. And all without the presence of Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom.
Head Coach Mike Babcock was once again outstanding, coaching Detroit above and beyond what was expected of them, making crucial adjustments in both playoff series that made the difference for the Wings. He continues to prove he is one of the best on the world at what he does, even shorthanded with his team’s season on the line.
In the end, the Detroit Red Wings finished the season as losers. It’s true: only one team of 30 wins Lord Stanley’s Cup.
But to me, this year was just as special as any.
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