History was almost made in Hockeytown.
The Red Wings were left for dead in these 2011 NHL playoffs after losing the first three games to the San Jose Sharks, but the team wasn't so quick to give up. Detroit won the next three games and forced a Game 7 in San Jose on Thursday night, which they ultimately lost, 3-2.
The Greatest Show On Earth
It's the best kept secret that Pavel Datsyuk is one of the elite players in hockey. He put on a show in these playoffs that let everyone else in on it. Datsyuk ended his season tied with Ryan Kesler for the league points lead in the playoffs with 15, scoring four goals and tallying 11 assists in 11 games. He was absolutely sensational in the first round against Phoenix, perhaps performing the greatest non-scoring move in NHL history.
Against San Jose, he was just as brilliant. However, he re-aggravated the broken wrist that kept him out of the lineup for over a month at some point during the series, which forced him out of taking faceoffs in the last couple games. It didn't slow him down during play, though, as he dished out three assists in Game 5 and scored on a wicked backhand shot in Game 7. Ultimately it was not enough, but there's no denying who was the best player in this series.
Goaltending Not To Blame This Time
When the Red Wings lose a playoff series the first thing people point to is the goaltending. It's the easiest position on the ice for a scapegoat because they're the ones that let in the goals. Jimmy Howard deserves no such blame.
It was a question mark going into the playoffs whether Howard would be able to face the added pressure in his second season. He looked a bit shaky last season against the Sharks in the second round, a key reason the Wings were dumped in five games. When Detroit went down 3-0 in this series, Howard was the least of the Red Wings' concerns. His goals against average actually dropped against San Jose from the first round despite losing the series and his .923 save percentage was seventh-best among playoff goalies.
If you're looking for someone to blame, you might want to start with Jiri Hudler. Hudler couldn't have been more invisible against the Sharks and his refusal to shoot the puck left fans screaming. He had no points and was a minus-3, finishing with just five shots on goal for the entire series--all of which game in Game 3. He also had a terrible defensive collapse in Game 4 that led directly to a goal, but it ended up not costing them the game. Hudler's not the sole reason Detroit lost, but he did not play well at all.
Nicklas Lidstrom: You Are Too Good To Retire
At 41 most athletes start to break down due to wear and tear on the body. Most retire well before that when their skills can no longer keep up with the speed of the game. Nicklas Lidstrom is the aberration that keeps defying the laws of age.
Detroit's new ageless wonder (move aside, Chris Chelios) was nothing short of spectacular in the postseason, showing why he's once again nominated for the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman. Lidstrom was the team's second leading scorer with four goals and four assists and finished a plus-8 in the postseason, a pretty significant jump from the minus-2 rating he posted in the regular season (which just goes to show how misleading that stat can be).
The question now becomes not if Lidstrom can play next season, but if he wants to. Yes, he'll be 42, but it doesn't change the fact that he's still one of the best in the game. Most guys retire because their bodies won't allow them to continue or they can no longer keep up. Lidstrom has shown neither is a concern. He's also got a family to think about, a key reason why he flirted with the idea last year. If he decides to go, no one will blame him.
But please, Nick, don't go. You're still too damn good.
Sometimes, The Better Team Doesn't Win
I sit here looking at this series and I'm still angry that the Sharks won. I firmly believe the Red Wings were the better team, but sometimes the bounces just don't go your way. You don't win a seven-game series in which six games were decided by one goal (and the other by an empty netter) without a bit of luck. Who knows, if Ben Ferriero's shot in Game 1 doesn't deflect off Brad Stuart's stick, it could be the Red Wings going to Vancouver. That's just the way it goes.
Antti Niemi sure had enough luck on his side to best the Wings, holding the highest scoring team in the first round at bay for most of the series. (Actually, if you added up the total length of the juicy rebounds Niemi gave up, they would circle the earth approximately six times. That's a fact.) Injuries were also an issue, as Detroit was forced to play with only 10 forwards for the second half of Game 7 after Todd Bertuzzi and Dan Cleary went down. Without Johan Franzen as well, they still almost pulled the upset.
But I'm not bitter. San Jose is a good team and this was the most evenly matched series we've seen in quite some time. Despite the loss, not enough can be said about the heart of this squad that almost pulled off the unthinkable. Admit it, when the team lost the first three games you had already booked their tee time for right after Game 4 (I am guilty of this as well). It was an outstanding effort, but in the end just not quite enough.