As a franchise, the Detroit Red Wings are the class of the National Hockey League. They have won 19 division championships, have appeared in 21 consecutive postseasons and have won 11 Stanley Cups. It simply gets no better then this team, at least in most of our lifetimes.
But, with winning comes unbelievably high expectations. The Red Wings have become the equivalent of the New York Yankees of the MLB, or the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA; losing is not an option. Unfortunately for the folks in Detroit, since winning a championship in 2008, the ‘Wings have slowly, but steadily fallen backwards.
In 2009, Detroit was defeated in the Stanley Cup Finals — just one game away from repeating as NHL Champions. Then, in 2010 and ’11, the Red Wings reached only the Western Conference Semi-Finals before being ousted by the San Jose Sharks in consecutive years. And, on Friday, they fell in the opening round of the playoffs to the Nashville Predators for the first time since 2006.
This wasn’t just any elimination either. In many ways, Detroit was dominated by the Predators in losing the series 4-1 (they are the first team eliminated from the playoffs). Nashville was able to beat typically outstanding netminder Jimmy Howard for three goals on three separate ocassions and push his goals against average above 2.60, which was significantly higher than his regular season GAA of 2.12.
The Red Wings offensive attack struggled to convert as well. Predators’ netminder Pekka Rinne and the rest of their big and talented defensive unit allowed just nine goals in five games to an offense that scored nearly three goals per game during the regular season — the 7th best scoring team in the league.
And, to top off an unimpressive performance, Detroit failed to win a single game at Joe Louis Arena during the series (0-2). This is truly shocking because the ‘Wings posted the NHL record for consecutive home victories during the regular season and finished the year with the best home mark in the league. In other words, if they were going to win the series, it was going to be on their home ice — at least theoretically.
Nothing went as planned for the 5th-seeded Red Wings and now they will be spending the rest of the postseason on a golf course, rather then playing for another crown. But, don’t think folks around Detroit’s franchise will be calm, cool and collected about this defeat. The team is quickly getting older — three of their top four scorers are above age 30 –, so the pressure to win is constantly growing.
I’ll be interested to see how they handle the offseason. There should be some players available that could help strengthen this team on both ends of the ice. However, if they don’t make the right changes, their string of playoff domination will come to an end in the very near future.
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