What Detroit Red Wings fans are feeling this morning is something they haven't experienced in four years. After making at least the third round each season since the 2007-08 campaign, with a Stanley Cup title in the middle, Detroit is starting their offseason earlier than desired after Saturday night's 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks in Game 5.
There are many emotions running through Wings fans this morning from many disappointed with how the team lost to wondering if team captain Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) will suit up for a 19th NHL season to outrage over the controversial hit by Douglas Murray(notes) on Johan Franzen(notes).
Here's what being said today:
"Small details, big penalties, poor faceoffs, huge plays by the Sharks. Ultimately, this looked like a snapshot of a long, arduous season for the Wings, who battled through loads of injuries to make the playoffs, were pressed to seven games by the Coyotes in the first round, and just couldn't catch their breaths.
Out of breath, out of time.
Sure, the Wings wore down a bit, whether from the mileage of previous long playoff runs or age or the recovery from injuries. But there should be no excuses, and no great gnashing of teeth, either. They still can press fiercely at times, but against the Sharks, it wasn't fierce enough for long enough, proven one last wrenching time."
George Malik of MLive.com points out that the mistakes that almost lost them Detroit their opening round series against Phoenix caught up with them against San Jose:
"The Wings' penchant for making bad mental mistakes nearly cost them their series against Phoenix, and against the Sharks, a team for which even the Wings had no margin for error, the Wings kept making the kinds of mistakes that show up on the scoreboard. Detail mistakes, like not bearing down on clearing attempts, ensuring that wingers supported their centers in the faceoff circle to scrum pucks loose, establishing a forecheck from the get-go and using that forecheck to create time and space for Detroit's puck-moving defenders to single-pass the puck through the neutral zone to forwards moving with speed to break trapping defenses and sustain possession and control in the offensive zone, and then bringing the puck to the front of the net with traffic to generate repeated scoring opportunities in which rebounds are retrieved and corralled, all while, at the other end of the ice, keeping one's slot clear by standing up at the blueline and ensuring that body position and sticks in passing lanes keep opponents to the perimeter and limit the kinds of home-run, back-door passes that the Sharks capitalized upon so very regularly."
"It never should have happened. Rafalski never should have had a chance to lose the puck because the previous faceoff shouldn't have been in the Detroit end.
On the preceding play, Douglas Murray clearly threw an elbow to Johan Franzen's head from the blind side and after Franzen had passed the puck off. The kind of hit that the NHL made a big deal about wanting to get out of the game. And no call was made. Instead of a power play and a faceoff in the San Jose end, Jimmy Howard(notes) had to make a stop as the Sharks took it back down, then the faceoff in the Wings' zone and the Rafalski turnover."
The hit in question:
Fight Night at the Joe believes that the injury-riddled regular season was the reason the Red Wings never looked completely in sync:
"We had a great season considering everything that happened, but it is frustrating to see them go down like this when we know they have the potential to be the best team in the NHL. Sadly their season got thrown by injuries that hindered chemistry and most of all identity struggles as they never quite consistently found the old, real one after having to change it up because of injuries."
Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press brings up the main topic of discussion over the next few weeks:
"Lidstrom just turned 40, but he’s never suffered from the sort of lingering injuries that helped force Steve Yzerman’s decision to retire after the 2005-06 season. And for those who think Lidstrom has lost a step, it speaks volumes that in a poll of 272 NHL players conducted by Sports Illustrated late this season, 25% chose Lidstrom as the NHL’s best shut-down defenseman.
Other than simply not wanting to push himself through any more seasons, there’s no reason Lidstrom can’t continue playing. And that’s the option his teammates hope he’ll pick."
Finally, Sharks' blog Fear the Fin believes the team and fan base have exorcised some demons after advancing to the Western Conference finals at the expense of the Red Wings:
"The wishing, the waiting, the heartbreak, the hand-wringing. The fear, the failure, the anger, the agony.
All of that, silenced, when the clock read zero tonight.
San Jose reaches the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2004, doing so by defeating their historical nemesis the. It was the biggest series in franchise history-- a loss would have likely meant an implosion in the offseason, with and a near certainty to be let go. 's name would have become synonymous with trade rumors, and the discussion on talk radio about his shortcomings would have reached a fevered pitch.
All of that, silenced, when the clock read zero tonight.
The biggest series in franchise history was handled in a mere five games. It is a time of celebration and jubilation, of freedom from the demons that have plagued our souls for five years. It was a monumental event that shook the city of San Jose tonight, one that will go down in the history books as a moment where the shackles of shame were broken in one quick flick of Patrick Marleau's wrist.
Tonight is exactly where we wanted to be.
Tomorrow is when it sets in that we're only halfway home.
"Only halfway home" brings up a question: Has San Jose shed its postseason struggles label with this five-game series win? Or would an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals be what's needed to end that discussion for good?