The Detroit Red Wings were the first team in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs to get eliminated in the opening round as they lost to the Nashville Predators 2-1 in Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals at the Bridgestone Arena.
It was the Red Wings earliest playoff exit since 2006 when they were ousted in the first round by the Edmonton Oilers in six games.
Jiri Hudler scored the lone goal for the Red Wings and Jimmy Howard kept his team in it, but it wasn’t enough, despite making 23 saves.
It was a repetitive pattern as the Predators scored first once again at 16:10 of the first period when David Legwand went along the boards and stripped the puck away from Kyle Quincey and then fed it to an open Alexander Radulov, who fired a one-timer from the slot and roofed it past Howard to take a 1-0 lead.
The Red Wings tied it at 13:45 of the second period when Henrik Zetterberg started the play by carrying the puck into the Predators’ zone. He shot the puck at the net; Valtteri Filppula tried to deflect Zetterberg’s shot, but Hudler jammed home the rebound past Predators’ goalie Pekka Rinne (21 saves) to make it 1-1.
But the dagger that struck the hearts of Red Wings’ fans occurred 13 seconds into the third period when Radulov took the puck from Brad Stuart, who failed to clear the puck in the neutral zone. Radulov passed the puck over to Gabriel Bourque, who drew two Red Wings skaters, then drop-passed it to Legwand, who fired a high-wrister past Howard. The Red Wings had their chances, but at the final buzzer, the better team won.
Congratulations to the Nashville Predators, who came in and outplayed the Red Wings. If there was an MVP in this series, it would have to be netminder Pekka Rinne as he posted a 4-1 record with a 1.81 goals against average and a .944 save percentage. He stole Games 3 and 4 from the Red Wings and stopped 81 of 84 shots. Performances like that win playoff series.
There weren’t many highlights for the Red Wings in the five games that they played in the opening round of the playoffs. Only two players on the team were on the plus side as Cory Emmerton and Gustav Nyquist each posted a +1 rating against the Predators with five players ending up on the even side. Henrik Zetterberg and Jiri Hudler led the team with two goals each with Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk leading the team in points with three each. And that’s about it, which doesn’t say much.
Some of the best players didn’t play like the best players. Johan Franzen played his best in Game 5, but where was he in the first four games? Valtteri Filppula was held goal-less, while Todd Bertuzzi did little besides the scrap with Shea Weber in Game 2. Brad Stuart’s time in Detroit could come to an end, and his -5 showing with some turnovers on the side could help push him out the door.
As far as Jimmy Howard is concerned, he didn’t have the greatest of series as his 2.64 goals against average and .888 save percentage speaks for itself. He was hung out to dry on some of the goals that he gave up, but there were a few that he should have stopped. Next year, there will be a bigger bulls-eye placed on the Red Wings’ number one netminder.
As the players head home and ponder what could have been, some could possibly represent their countries in the upcoming 2012 IIHF World Championships in Sweden and Finland. But the most pressing questions will be answered this summer.
The main concern around these parts is regarding the Captain, Nicklas Lidstrom. Has he played his last game for the Red Wings? As a fan who closely watches this team, I’m going to say it’s 50-50. Lidstrom will turn 42 next week and it would be great to have him back for another season. And yes, it would be awesome for him to take part in the 2013 Winter Classic against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Ann Arbor on January 1. At the end of the day, it’s his call and whatever decision he makes, we should all respect it. Hands down, Nicklas Lidstrom the best defenseman to have skated on an NHL rink since Bobby Orr.
Whether or not Lidstrom returns for the 2012-13 season, it’s time for Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland to roll up his sleeves and get to work. He can’t have this same lineup when the Red Wings start the season in October. Several players’ contracts are up such as Lidstrom, Ty Conklin (who won’t be back), Tomas Holmstrom, Jiri Hudler, Brad Stuart (all Unrestricted Free Agents), Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Kyle Quincey (Restricted Free Agents).
With the Red Wings’ cap space over $4 million and depending on who will or won’t re-sign with the team, there will be some star talent that will test the waters. As I’ve said in a couple of blogs this season, Predators’ defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber will both be on the open market on July 1st. Either or both of them would bring a tremendous boost to the Red Wings’ lineup. Speaking of the blueline, Dennis Wideman (Capitals) and Matt Carle (Flyers) also would be viable options. Forwards Alexander Semin (Capitals), Zach Parise (Devils), P.A. Parenteau (Islanders) would also be nice fits on the forward lines.
We can’t forget about the kids down in Grand Rapids, especially defenseman Brendan Smith and forward Gustav Nyquist. Both had a combined 32 NHL games played (Smith-14, Nyquist-18) with each contributing a goal and six assists. It’s just a glimpse of what they can do and the future is bright for both future stars who could enter the 2012-13 NHL season on the Opening Night roster.
Even though the Red Wings were ousted early in the first round, it was a season of milestones for the franchise. We got to see the Red Wings set an NHL home record with 23 straight wins, as well as see Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom play in their 1,500th and 1,oooth games, respectively. Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock was behind the bench for his 400th win against the Phoenix Coyotes. Let’s not forget the Red Wings playing in their 21st straight year in the playoffs, which is the longest active streak in all of the four major sports leagues.
Despite the Red Wings early exit in the first round, my rookie season covering the team at Hockey Independent was fun and entertaining. There will be no Stanley Cup parade, but let’s hope that some free agent signings will be as enjoyable and that the Red Wings can make another run at Lord Stanley. Until next time….
About the Author: Alex lives in Hockeytown, USA. He is a huge Red Wings fan going back to the 1985-86 season when they were dead last with 40 points. He has seen the transition from the 'Dead Wings' to one of the top franchises in sports. You can also follow him at twitter.com/alexmuscat73.