May 30, 2013 at 3:16 am

Gregg Krupa

Red Wings put intensity, heart, determination on display

Detroit -- Heartbreaking, certainly, but the Red Wings had quite a year.

They took the best team in the NHL in the regular season to overtime in the seventh game and lost, when defenseman Brent Seabrook, fired a puck that deflected off Niklas Kronwall's skate and behind Jimmy Howard.

Kronwall only did his job, as he has done all year essentially replacing one of the greatest defensemen in the history of the game, Nicklas Lidstrom. He had marvelous playoffs with his partner Jonathan Ericsson, holding big scorers like Corey Perry and Jonathan Toews almost entirely in check throughout 14 games.

He could not be faulted on the goal.

Howard had no chance on it, stopped 33 of 35 shots and held his guys in for long, stretches when they struggled.

Much was learned in this game, this series, these playoffs, in this season.

The Red Wings are much better positioned for next season than many doubters could imagine, even several weeks ago.

Babcock coached

Mike Babcock worked and worked with the roster in flux and a bunch of young guys.

Somehow it managed to come together enough that they pulled one big upset in the playoffs, beating the Ducks, and came within one goal of ousting the powerful Blackhawks.

His Wings were clipped, yet again, in Game 7 when Valtteri Filppula went down because of a left leg injury in the opening minutes. Babcock was unable to juggle lines to match-up differently against the deeply-talented Blackhawks and play Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on the same line.

"Obviously, we're disappointed in the outcome, very proud of our guys," Babcock said. "I thought that we had exceptional, exceptional leadership from our guys. I thought our kids really played hard.

"To get back to the level where we are now, we obviously need to improve our hockey club. For me, I thought our players really competed hard and worked hard. We think we got kids going in the right direction. But we've still got to get better."

Cleary as a leader

He started the season speaking for the players and keeping the young fellows on message out in Troy during the lockout. His leadership was superb, in trying circumstances.

Daniel Cleary had a tough season, at times. By the end, there was some talk about the importance of his grit, but doubt about whether the Wings will sign him again for next season.

But when he took the ice in the third period, Cleary burned.

In a terrific display of intensity on the forecheck, he prevented the Blackhawks from leaving their own zone for the first 20 seconds. He and had them so bottled up, it forced the turnover that led to the Wings first goal and a tie game.

Now, his leadership was by example. For the much of the entire game until those opening moments of the third period, the Wings had not mounted much of a forecheck, or a backcheck. Their forwards seemed slow, perhaps listless and it allowed the Blackhawks to pour out of their zone, quickly through the neutral zone and in on Howard.

Cleary's shift not only produced the game tying goal, it signaled a huge switch in the game

The Red Wings forwards were finally hard on the Blackhawks defense and, if that failed, back-checking their hearts out.

"Proud and disappointed," Cleary said, when it was over.

"We went up 3-1 and couldn't close them out. This team worked hard all season."

Hands from God

When Gustav Nyquist got the puck, after Cleary's awesome performance, he lifted a saucer pass over the stick of a Blackhawks defenseman toward Zetterberg.

It was a nice play by Nyquist.

But the puck fluttered much more than either he or Zetterberg would have hoped. But Zetterberg is world class player for several reasons. Among them, his hands are from on high.

He swung at the puck before it hit the ground and despite the gyrations and uncertain course it took, one of the finest money players in Wings' history knocked it behind Crawford.

Zetterberg neutralized Toews throughout the series, when the Red Wings could devise that matchup.

And, once again in the playoffs, when it was absolutely necessary for their best players to step forth and land the punches, Zetterberg answered the bell.

Powerless play

The Red Wings were 1 for 24 on the power play in the series. They could certainly have used a few more goals, and one more in Game 7.

The Blackhawks have been brilliant on the penalty kill to this point in the playoffs, but the Red Wings power outage also had to do with their lineup. As was the case at the end of 2012, they find themselves need more firepower going into next season.

Lousy change, Sharp goal

Amid a myriad of little things at the start of the second period, the Red Wings completely messed-up a line change. With the puck barely in the Blackhawks end of the ice, Kronwall and Ericsson skated without sufficient pace towards the Red Wings bench with their sticks raised, beckoning replacements.

They were tired after a long shift on which the Blackhawks put heavy pressure on them, and Howard, in the opening 50 seconds of the period.

But at least one of them should have waited to change. And one of the Red Wings forwards should have stayed more involved in the play, too.

Instead, when the Blackhawks transitioned in an instant and launched their attack, it was Kyle Quincey struggling to become relevant on the play, and Howard largely alone.

Gregg.Krupa@detroitnews.com

The Red Wings Drew Miller is pushed into the ground by several Blackhawks in the second period Wednesday. / David Guralnick/ Detroit News
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