I suppose it's part of the standards that Red Wings fans have become accustomed to over the past few years that a second round exit at the hands of the Sharks is a disappointment. Before you classify that as another intended "elitist" statement by the Red Wings fanbase, consider the success the team has had over the past five seasons (since Mike Babcock has taken over as head coach). Four division titles, two Stanley Cup Finals appearances (with one Cup), three consecutive conference finals appearances (before this season) and only one first round exit (Babcock's first year with the team).
Success and the tradition of winning was established a long time ago in Hockeytown but it has been renewed in the salary cap era, an era in which the Wings were supposed to struggle. Proper front office management via drafting successfully, players taking less money to stay with the team, developing young talent, and a head coach with a strong will to succeed has made the notion of struggling an afterthought.
This season was perhaps a prime example of all of the above. Detroit was plagued by injuries throughout the season, including a few games in which as many as eight players were out of the line-up due to injury and illness. There were numerous occasions during the season in which the team looked more like an AHL roster than that of a NHL team because of the injuries. The team stayed afloat in the West when many teams might have just folded and hoped for a better year next time. The Wings went from 9th to 5th place by season's end and extended the consecutive playoff appearance streak to 19.
In the playoffs, the Red Wings were matched up against a very tough Phoenix Coyotes team in the first round. The series went to seven games before the Red Wings prevailed and advanced to the next round. The Red Wings had a day off after the Phoenix win before traveling to San Jose to face the No. 1 seeded Sharks. All four San Jose wins were each by a margin of one goal. How close the series was in the goal column (despite the Red Wings actually having the advantage in the series, 17-15) was indicative of how good and and well matched the two teams were.
Does the 4-1 series loss sting? Yeah, it does. Let's not forget though that the Sharks were the number one seed for a reason. They were able to win the close games and capitalize on the opportunities given to them by Detroit. You can question the officiating all you want, but at some point the job has to be done no matter how the odds are stacked against you. Detroit did the best possible despite the parade to the penalty box but in the end it turned out to be too much.
Perhaps one of the things that stuck with me the most this post-season was game 4. With the 3-0 lead for the Sharks, the Wings could have easily come out at home in game 4 and accepted a sweep. Instead, they came out strong and gave the home crowd something to cheer about, despite the circumstances, with the 7-1 victory.
For a team that at one point looked like it might not even make a post-season appearance, the Red Wings have a lot they can hang their hat on in terms of perseverance and knowing what the young players on the team are capable of in the future.
Was it the outcome they had hoped for? Not by any one's definition. Could it have been worse? You bet. But the fact that it wasn't worse is something they can be proud of, even if there's no ring or banner attached to it.