Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.
The game had a very "safe" tone to it. Neither team really pushed play or took too many chances, the Red Wings perhaps electing to ensure that they didn't do anything early that could put them in a hole. The Wings went on the power play a little under 4 minutes in after Tampa was called for too many men. Not long after that, Jason Garrison cross checked the Wing forward in front of the net, giving the Wings a 2-man advantage for over a minute. The Wings completely wasted it by passing around the perimeter, getting a single shot and hitting the post but doing nothing in almost 3 minutes of power play time. Tampa had a great chance, but Petr Mrazek was strong. Gustav Nyquist was "guilty" of "slashing", putting the Lightning on the power play. The Wings kept Tampa to the outside and killed it without incident. The teams both had chances, but no really fantastic ones as the game maintained its safe feel. Niklas Kronwall was called for hooking with less than a minute left in the period, but the Bolts were unable to score, and carried time power play time over to the second period.
Shots: 9-8 Red Wings
Strong Period: Danny DeKeyser
Tough Period: Jonathan Ericsson
The Wings were able to kill off the remaining Tampa power play, giving up zero shots and again doing a good job of keeping the Lightning to the outside. However, the Wings went back on the power play a few minutes later after Dylan Larkin tripped Brayden Coburn. The Wings had a glorious chance to get the first goal of the game, but Riley Sheahan was stopped by Ben Bishop on a shorthanded breakaway, and Darren Helm got a chance himself but was also stopped. The Wings followed that up with a really strong shift from the Henrik Zetterberg line. The Wings continued to play with fire, taking their 4th straight penalty, this time Kyle Quincey getting called for hooking Ondrej Palat in front of the Wings' net. Once again, the Wings' penalty killers were up to the task, including Petr Mrazek, who made a good save on Coburn. Helm had a breakaway that was stopped by Bishop, but the Wings looked good on the PK. The Wings started to maintain possession and spend more time in the Tampa zone, and their persistence allowed them to go to the power play. The first 30 seconds saw them get chances, but it was Tampa who took over after that. Dylan Larkin had a breakaway, but Bishop again came up with a huge save. The period ended with the Wings throwing everything they had at Tampa's net, but unable to score.
Shots: 23-14 Red Wings
Strong Period: Pavel Datsyuk
Tough Period: Whoever runs breakaway practice
There was a major etiquette breach at the beginning of the period when someone threw an octopus on the ice during play. Again, the Wings had a few strong chances, while the Lightning reunited the Triplets to try and find some offense. Ok, so I have to be honest: there was a lot of back-and-forth action in the third, but I was so riveted and nervous I forgot to type it out. But no one scored as we reached the halfway point of the third period. The Wings had their chances, but it was a defensive breakdown between Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Petr Mrazek that sealed the Wings' fate, as Alex Killorn got a loose puck and put it home. The Wings got a late power play, but you know the drill, and the season is over.
Score: 1-0 Lightning
Shots: 33-24 Red Wings
Strong Period: Doesn't matter
Tough Period: Doesn't matter
Points of Observation
If you've been around here long enough, you know that when we write the last recap of the season, we tend to dwell less on the actual game because, really, who wants to think about what happened when it just brings more sadness?
First and foremost, congratulations to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Many wrote them off after losing Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman, but there are still several very good players on that team, and they stepped up to fill the void that the absence of those two created. Kudos on a deserved series win, and good luck in the second round to whoever they play.
On the Red Wings' side, I think we're about to enter an offseason that is going to feel very similar to 2006 and 2012, when 2 very influential members of the team announced their retirements, leaving huge voids on the roster. If this is indeed was Pavel Datsyuk's last game in the NHL, then it's a shame that his season ended prematurely, although Wing fans should be used to this, having witnessed Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom have their seasons cut short too soon. The difference was that those departures didn't carry with them the contract situations that Datsyuk's will, but that's another problem for another day. Today, we simply hope that Pavel decides that he's got one more year in him before heading home to be with his family, a right he has earned, because we're simply not ready to let go just yet.
There will be plenty of time to go through what went right, what went wrong, what needs to stay the same, and what needs to change before the puck drops on the 2016-17 season. We'll dissect this season forwards and backwards, and what I think we'll discover is what we knew all along: the Red Wings were neither good nor bad. They weren't perfect, but they weren't the worst at anything (except the PP). They just were. That's it. They played, they tried, and some nights that was good enough, and some nights it wasn't. They existed.
That's really how this season felt. It was a roller coaster, with some highs (Dylan Larkin making the team and establishing himself as the leader of the next generation at 19, Andreas Athanasiou pulling us out of our seats every time he touched the puck, Petr Mrazek's month-plus of dominance) and lows (Henrik Zetterberg finishing with his lowest Pts/G since his rookie season, Datsyuk's expected retirement, the failure of players to exceed last year's performance). At the end of the day, the Wings were able to make the playoffs for the 25th straight season, a remarkable feat in this day and age despite your feelings about its greater meaning.
But the issue now is that the Wings can not be content to just make the playoffs and be first round fodder for a better team. 4 times in 5 years the Wings have bowed out in the opening round, with 3 of those series lasting a grand total of 5 games. And the road ahead will not get any easier, because teams around them are catching up while the Wings are falling.
This really feels like a fork in the road for the Red Wings, and they have a couple of paths to choose from: the first leads them where they've come from, where they maintain a base of veterans as leaders and complement them with younger players getting their first taste of NHL action. The second is to go with more of a youth movement and really start turning the team over to the next generation.
The time for decisions is not now, when emotions are raw from yet another disappointing first round exit. The Wings need to take a good, hard, long look at where they are now and where they want to be in the next couple of years. I don't want to comment on what I think needs to happen with Ken Holland or Jeff Blashill, but I will say that Blashill deserves more than 1 season to get the roster he wants to play on a regular basis.
At the end of the day, we all want to see this team succeed, and falling short for yet another year is tough to take. There are some very hard questions for this management and coaching staff to answer, and there are glaring weaknesses on this team that need to be addressed. The Wings need to decide how they are going to get back to being a contender. Without telling them what to do, the only advice we will give is this: what they've been doing isn't working. It may be time to consider trying something new.