And that's that.
First and foremost, congratulations to the Nashville Predators on their victory. This was a very hard-fought series, but the Predators were better when it counted. Represent the Central Division well on your quest for the Cup.
The end of a season that doesn't involve a Stanley Cup is always difficult to digest. This year, the first time the Wings haven't advanced past the first round since 2006, it's even harder because of the very long off-season ahead of us. An off-season with a ton of questions and very few answers.
The game was pretty typical of the 2011-12 Red Wings. An uneven start that resulted in being behind early, finding the jump to tie the game, a defensive breakdown that led to the go-ahead goal, and a flurry at the end of the game that couldn't produce a goal.
It was the same old same old, the kind of stuff we saw all season. Whether playing the Nashville Predators or the New York Islanders, the Wings were never able to consistently "bring it". They would play down to their competition at times and not rise up to meet a strong opponent at others.
We all know what's at stake this summer. We might have witnessed the final game of Nicklas Lidstrom's Hall of Fame career. It's something that no one wants to think of, but it's something we may have to face. Personally, I think he comes back, but that's simply a gut feeling so that I don't cry for the next 2 months.
This could be the end of Tomas Holmstrom's career. If so, how fitting would it be that his last entry on an NHL scoresheet was for a goaltender interference penalty?
Tonight saw some good things: Jimmy Howard, facing elimination, was incredible. Henrik Zetterberg was a force every time he touched the puck. Gustav Nyquist showed a lot of poise and confidence with the puck, even if some of his decisions were forced.
If there is a good thing about this series being over, it's that the nastiness between the opposing blogs is finally over. I'm sure that someone somewhere will say something that someone doesn't like, but thankfully no one should care. If they do, I hope they are told to get over it and stop being a baby.
Admit it: 30 seconds in to the game you were thinking "here we go again" with the refs, weren't you?
Ultimately what this series came down to was Nashville taking advantage of every single mistake the Wings made, while the Wings didn't return the favor at any point. This wasn't about bounces, refs, conspiracies or anything else. When the chips were down and when it counted, Nashville converted and the Wings didn't.
Think about tonight. Quincey coughs up the puck after an aggressive forecheck? Goal. Brad Stuart is danced around (again)? Goal. How many times was Pekka Rinne lost behind his net or without a stick? How many times did the Wings get the puck to the front of the net to create a scoring chance?
I don't know who will be back and who will leave. I know that I won't shed a single tear when Stuart signs a contract with a west coast team next year. His play over the last 1-2 months of the season made it very easy to envision life without him, because realizing that there won't be one play a game that will make me want to kick my dog is a nice feeling.
There will be plenty of times for in-depth post-mortems in the coming days and weeks. Once the shock of not watching the Red Wings play meaningful hockey in May has worn off, we'll analyze exactly what went wrong and what needs to change. I have plenty of opinions on that, but to sum it up right now, it's this: the Wings need to do more than just make minor tweaks to this team. The Red Wings need to get faster, and they need to get hungrier.
The biggest issue I had with this team was a lack of urgency when the team needed it. They always looked like a team that thought they could win, never one that looked they had to win.
Bottom line: this team just wasn't good enough. Had they been able to eke out a victory in this series, do you really believe they could have kept it going? Like the Sharks the past 2 years, the Wings ran into a team that was built specifically to beat them, and they carried out their mission with unrelenting determination.
What needs to change for the Wings to reclaim their perch atop the Western Conference? A lot. A whole hell of a lot.
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