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Any thought of a playoff run stopped for the Detroit Red Wings around 6 p.m. Saturday, when Jarome Iginla ended a first-round Stanley Cup playoff series with an empty-net goal for the Boston Bruins.
Following a 4-2 loss in Game 5 in Boston, eighth-year Red Wings coach Mike Babcock considered his team’s playoff efforts over the last three seasons. Then, he dismissed the idea of his current team being a championship contender.
“We’re not there,” Babcock said. “[Boston] is like we used to be. The last two years we battled to get into the playoffs. To me, that’s the measure of where we are. We’re a team that used to battle to win the Stanley Cup. Now, we battle to get into the playoffs.”
It’s quite the tumble for a franchise that made six appearances in the Stanley Cup finals from 1997 to 2009. The 2013-2014 season is over for the Red Wings, who clean out their lockers today at Joe Louis Arena.
Detroit’s 23rd consecutive playoff appearance concluded without any resounding fashion, in part because the Red Wings weren’t cut out for a lengthy playoff run.
Not because they weren’t built to do so, but because of injuries to key players such as forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, goalie Jimmy Howard, and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson; a lack of playoff experience, and two lengthy mid-season losing streaks, which resulted in finishing 39-28-15 and earning the last of eight playoff berths in the Eastern Conference.
“You’ve got to do something different to go deeper,” said Zetterberg, who missed two months because of a back injury and subsequent surgery before returning for two playoff games. “We have to sit down and see what we may have done wrong and change it for next year.”
The Wings lost seven in a row from Nov. 4-19, then lost six in a row from Dec. 7-17. They lost Jimmy Howard to a knee injury in December and again in January, then lost Datsyuk (knee) and Zetterberg in the second half of the season, along with Ericsson (broken hand).
Then, in a five-game playoff series, Boston exposed Detroit’s youth. Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Jurco, Tomas Tatar, Luke Glendening, and Riley Sheahan combined for only one point in the first round; Nyquist and Tatar combined for 47 goals and 40 assists during the regular season.
“Kids in general aren’t very successful at playoff time unless they’re one of three on a line or they’re the sixth defenseman,” Babcock said. “When you’re counting on them, it’s hard for them. When you can surround them with a bunch of veterans that look after them, that’s a totally different thing.
“When you count on them, they get here and find out there’s no space. They wonder what’s going on. Instead of fighting through it they start thinking too much and now they’re slow and not doing what they normally do. That was for sure with our guys.”
The youngsters are whom the Red Wings need to build their foundation upon, considering that Niklas Kronwall, Johan Franzen, Zetterberg, and Datsyuk have become the team’s elder statesmen of sorts. Furthermore, Detroit needs to be bullish when free agency opens July 1; seven players become unrestricted free agents, including right wing Daniel Alfredsson, goalie Jonas Gustavsson, and defenseman Kyle Quincey. The NHL’s salary cap is expected to be $71 million.
But, Zetterberg said, “It’s tough to think about the future right after you’re done playing for this year.”