The Detroit Red Wings lost in five games to the President's Trophy winners, the Boston Bruins. It didn't have to end this way. Now I know some of you are thinking, "Yeah, if we just beat Carolina, we would have gotten a chance at Marc-Andre Fleury and the Pittsburgh Penguins!"
But the thing is, we didn't need to wait all the way until the Carolina game to cement that first wild card spot. Hell, if we did a better job of managing to win games we more than likely *should* have won, we might have even been in contention for a guaranteed Atlantic division spot.
In the November 7 game against Dallas, Detroit had a 3-2 lead going into the final minutes of regulation. Justin Abdelkader then took a much-debated goalie interference penalty, putting the Stars on the power play and letting Cody Eakin tie the game with 70 seconds left. Rich Peverley ended the game with 20 seconds left in overtime. There's one point that got away.
There's also the January 26 game against the Florida Panthers. First off, going 2-1-2 against this season's iteration of the Florida Panthers isn't exactly a calling card for success. Second off, Detroit took a 4-2 lead in that game with 6:27 to go. That game needs to have a W, especially an ROW, next to it at the end of the night. Drew Shore cut the lead to one less than a minute after Tomas Tatar put the Red Wings up two, and Brad Boyes scored a shorthander to tie the game with under five minutes to go. That's another point lost (via the shootout) down the drain.
What really hurts is not getting any points from a regulation loss. March 4 against New Jersey, the Red Wings decided it would be a great birthday present for me to watch them lose the game on a goal scored with 37 seconds left in regulation.
It's definitely at least one point lost from the Red Wings' inability to clear the zone with a minute left in regulation, and possibly two considering how back and forth this particular game went.
There are a couple lessons to learn from this exercise. The first and more obvious is that the Red Wings need to clamp down and finish off games. We're a far cry from the 2008 Cup team that obliterated the concept of "score effects":
The 07-08 Red Wings were a 56.2 FF% team with a 2-goal lead. No team in 6 years has come close. Talk about putting your foot on the throat.— Adam Gretz (@AGretz) April 24, 2014
Still, this team too often did not come away with points that it absolutely had a grip on. Three times, the Red Wings lost games in regulation when leading after two periods; seven times, they lost in overtime, most in the league. That's 13 points down the drain. Number like that put us on par with the New York Islanders (6 regulation losses when leading after 2, 6 overtime), the Phoenix Coyotes (6-4), and the Vancouver Canucks (5-2). The common thread among those three other teams? They all missed the playoffs.
The more subtle lesson draws is basically axiomatic. The simple truth is that whether it's game 1, game 48, or game 82, points matter. Take what you get now because you don't know how the rest of the season will unfold. There's less room for error in a lockout-shortened 48-game season than an 82-game season because the longer season gives a team more time to make up ground if they fall behind. We saw that phenomenon develop first hand when the Red Wings essentially needed to win out the last week of the season to make last year's postseason. But in an 82-game schedule, that additional time is still no excuse to piss away points in November or January or especially March because those missed opportunities come back to bite you in the ass when you lose to the Carolina Hurricanes in the penultimate game of the season.