Tampa Bay — Another year, another first-round exit for the Red Wings.
Yes, they made it to the playoffs for a 25th consecutive season, which is a tremendous achievement, but for the fourth time in five years they were eliminated in the first round.
Tampa Bay did it for the second consecutive year Thursday, goalie Ben Bishop again making the difference in a 1-0 victory.
The early playoff exits are beginning to take their toll.
“There’s no question that losing in the first round now quite a few years, it’s getting old, no doubt about it,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said.
Said captain Henrik Zetterberg: “Second year in a row we can say we were close or we were in this series, but they find a way to win and we don’t. That’s something we have to address.”
The Red Wings also now must sit and wait to see what Pavel Datsyuk does, whether it be return to fulfill the final season of his three-year contract, or return to Russia for family reasons?
“Very emotional,” Datsyuk said of what could be his final NHL game. “I need to cool down and start thinking about it (his decision) more.”
Bishop made 34 saves and was unquestionably the star of the game. But it was Lightning forward Ryan Callahan who swiped the puck from goalie Petr Mrazek behind the Wings’ net and fed Alex Killorn in front for the winner with only 1, minute 43 seconds left for the only goal of the game.
“It’s always hard when you lose a game like that, this kind of goal, it’s frustrating,” Mrazek said. “But we had lots of chances to finish earlier and we just couldn’t score.”
Mrazek said he heard defenseman Jonathan Ericsson calling for the puck but couldn’t get the puck to him.
“I just heard him screaming to me and I tried to dump it to him on the far post,” Mrazek said. “He skated a bit farther than I thought.”
Said coach Jeff Blashill: “Petr is one of the best puckhandling goalies in the league. One thing when you have a great puckhandling goalie, sometimes you’re going to have miscues and unfortunately it was at that time.”
The Red Wings had a two-man advantage for the final 43.6 seconds after a Tampa penalty. They pulled Mrazek but couldn’t convert, a fitting exclamation point to a power play that was terrible in this series, going 1-for-25.
“The power play wasn’t good enough,” Blashill said.
The Red Wings had a two-man advantage for 1:14 early in the first period, but rather than generating any goals or momentum, it was a rather futile span, highlighted only by Datsyuk hitting a post.
“Five-on-five I thought we played well,” said Zetterberg, one of many Red Wings who struggled offensively (one point in five games). “They won the special-teams battle. Their best players outplayed our best players. We have to produce more, including me. I’m probably one of the guys that, with the ice time I have, I have to do more. I couldn’t do that these playoffs and that’s hard.
“We have to do better than we did. It’s on us. It’s on us players who play in those situations to be better. It wasn’t close to good-enough standards.”
In all four losses in this series the Red Wings were tied in the third period, only to see Tampa Bay score and ultimately win.
“Other than that (power play), we were on track in a lot of ways,” Blashill said. “It’s tied all four losses in the third period. Obviously we have to make one more play than them in those points — and the power play wasn’t good enough.”