Tampa, Fla. — Now, the speculation increases regarding the Red Wings. And there will be a lot of it, mainly with coach Mike Babcock.
What will be Babcock's future, after the Red Wings saw their season come to an end Wednesday in a 2-0 Game 7 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning won the series 4-3 and advance to play Montreal in Round 2.
As for the Red Wings, Babcock is an unrestricted free agent July 1, the most-sought-after coach available on the open market.
The three best players (Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall) all are over 34, as Babcock was quick to point out afterward, and there's a question as to whether there are players capable of replacing them.
But whether Babcock returns to the Red Wings remains to be seen, the big question for the coming two months.
"I'm not talking about that now," Babcock said after Wednesday's loss, regarding his future. "We'll have a team meeting and final press conference and I'll talk about that (stuff) then."
For now, the Red Wings will agonize over their third first-round elimination in four seasons, somewhat taking the joy out of a 24th consecutive playoff berth this season.
"We fought hard, it was one of our best games today," captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "We couldn't find a way to get the puck in (the net)."
Braydon Coburn scored at 3 minutes, 58 seconds of the third period, after a great work by Ryan Callahan creating the chance, breaking the scoreless tie.
Anton Stralman scored an empty-net goal at 18:42 to make it 2-0.
Goalie Ben Bishop (31 saves) preserved the lead with a wonderful save on Zetterberg midway through the period.
Zetterberg got the puck on a 3-on-2 rush, alone in the dot, and snapped a shot that was swallowed by Bishop, who got to his spot in the crease just in time.
Zetterberg went the entire seven-game series without scoring a goal.
"I couldn't produce the way I wanted this postseason," Zetterberg said. "No goals, the amount of minutes I play, I should score more goals."
As for yet another first-round elimination?
"It's really tiring," he said. "Obviously this year we had a good team. We had good chances. Unfortunately we couldn't get it done."
The Red Wings out-shot the Lightning, 31-17.
Through two periods, the teams battled to a scoreless tie.
The Red Wings were the better team through most of the first period, jumping on the Lightning early.
Tampa Bay looked like the younger and more inexperienced team in the opening minutes, and the Red Wings had a 7-1 edge in shots in the opening 4:37, the Lightning hanging on.
"If you compare games 1 and 7, our team got better as the series went on," Babcock said. "We played good here today. The puck didn't go in."
The Red Wings were again the better team for most of the second period.
Each team had an early power play in the period but again was thwarted by penalty kills that have been largely outstanding through the series.
With the Red Wings gaining control, they had a golden opportunity to break the scoreless tie on a fluke play.
Bishop wandered out of the crease to play a loose puck, but couldn't get to it before Landon Ferraro did.
Ferraro chipped the puck forward but it danced just wide of the open net, a dangerous chance Bishop was able to overcome.
The Red Wings had two outstanding opportunities in the closing minutes of the second period.
Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Tatar came down on a 2-on-1, Datsyuk centered the puck to Tatar, but the puck bobbled off Tatar's stick wide as he attempted to make a move.
Datsyuk set up Darren Helm coming down alone with just a few seconds left in the period, but Helm shot wide of the net as the horn blew.
"We had good opportunities," Babcock said. "Our team played well and real hard. We had the puck a lot."
But it didn't get the Red Wings anything. Just another early exit in the playoffs.
"You want to keep playing this time of year," Jonathan Ericsson said. "We felt good about our group. Everyone was real hungry. But now we have to wait until next year."