Before I say anything about this game, I just want to point out that in my short tenure of writing for the Octopus Thrower, this is my third game recap, and the Detroit Red Wings have lost all three. It hurts. It hurts real bad.
I can keep talking about how every game for the Red Wings is a must-win, how they aren’t playing the way they need to; all the same details that aren’t changing, but I think I’m going to do us all a favor and get this recap over quickly, because the game itself was already tough to swallow itself.
The first period between the Red Wings and the Blackhawks looked like a carbon copy of a 2012 2nd-round playoff game. The game was tight, with both teams moving at a fast pace, and the offenses were battling. The Wings were outshot, but the period ended scoreless, and the Wings looked to be every bit in this game, even with an IR list a mile long.
Nick Leddy put the first mark on the score sheet over 8 minutes into the 2nd period, after a controversial Teemu Pulkkinen tripping call. Leddy took a shot from the point through traffic to slide through Jimmy Howard‘s five hole. The Wings’ defense was playing way too low, and left Chicago’s d-men plenty of space to work with the puck throughout the PK, and it came back to bite them. Later in the period, on a power play of their own, the Wings were able to answer on their own through-traffic blast, when Nyquist’s wrist shot deflected off a Chicago defender’s skate, and sank into the net. This excitement was to be short-lived, however, because the Wings once again experienced their patented 3rd period collapse, letting Ben Smith score with 24 seconds left. It was excruciating to see the Red Wings’ minds to walk into the dressing room when the second period was still in play, and their chances of two points walked out with them.
I wish the game had ended here. The Wings came out with a surprising offensive push, with several good chances, and just when they looked their best, their good pal Marian Hossa ruined the fun. The shorthanded Blackhawks were pushing the Wings back into their zone, and Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith tripped over one another at the blue line, allowing Hossa to speed into the zone and rip one through Howard’s five hole without breaking a sweat. Howard should have made a save here, but the play shouldn’t have happened in the first place, and he was the one keeping the team in the game up until that point. Alfredsson should have tied the game, but the slumping Swede somehow missed an unattended puck inches in front of a wide open net. The Wings lost their heart once again, and had very few chances for the remainder of the game. Jonathan Toews scored an impressive shorthanded goal after drawing Howard out of the crease and pushing the puck in to further rip open the hearts of the Detroit fans.
I believe, for the first time in the 16 years I have breathed on this earth, the Red Wings will miss the playoffs. It’s not their fault, though. With no Pavel Datsyuk, no Henrik Zetterberg, no Jonas Gustavsson, no Darren Helm, no Stephen Weiss, no Joakim Andersson, no Tomas Jurco, and even more for a late season push after all of these players had already missed time earlier in the season for long stints, nobody should have expected them to make the playoffs this year. In the midst of a rebuild (say what you want, they are definitely rebuilding), a mountain of injuries, and a horrendous late-season schedule, this team is destined to miss the playoffs. Half of this current roster is composed of AHL players. This team is fighting like crazy, and although I’ve said some nasty things about them as of late, they deserve loads of credit for how far they’ve made it this season. They are inches out of a playoff spot. If I told you at the beginning of the season that Nyquist, Tatar, Sheahan, Glendening, and Jurco were going to be our go-to guys right now, you’d think they’d be sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. But they’re not. These kids have played downright phenomenal hockey all season long, almost all in their first season, playing against the best players in the world. They look like they’ve been on this team for years. They aren’t the only ones, either. We’re still waiting for full-time gigs for Pulkkinen, Mantha, Athanasiou, Almquist, Mrazek, Sproul, and countless other prospects that are going to kick behind in this league, just like our “kids” are doing now.
Sure, the playoff streak is likely ending at 22 straight seasons. But does that take anything away from the Wings’ organization? Not in my books. They’re the most successful NHL team on American soil, and they’ve been the best for the past 22 years, and the only thing coming from missing the playoffs one year is a shot at the 2015 draft lottery.
Don’t fret, Detroit. When one door shuts, another one opens. The Wings were trending down after 2008, losing countless of the league’s best players. And now, they’re beginning their climb back to the top, and they’re going to be another force to be reckoned with.