'Frustrating': Red Wings' playoff fate sealed in loss

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — It’s been pretty much a given for many days, weeks, probably a month or two.

But it’s official now — the Red Wings aren’t going to the playoffs.

They became mathematically eliminated Thursday, losing 1-0 to the Washington Capitals sending the Red Wings to an early offseason for a second consecutive season.

“Frustrating,” said goaltender Jimmy Howard, who has been through many playoff seasons and now the last two regular season failures. “Obviously, this organization is expected to be playing (in the postseason). That’s not going to be the case for a second year in a row.

“We have to find a way to end that.”

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The chances of making the playoffs have been extremely slim for a long time, but the Red Wings (27-36-11, 65 points) winning only once in the last 12 games (1-10-1) certainly didn’t help matters.

There will be plenty of time to reflect as to how to rectify what’s gone wrong.

“We all know we’re in transition here, with younger players coming in,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “All teams go through it, eventually. It’s hard to go after, or trade, or sign a real good player nowadays.

“You have to get him through your own system. We have to get lucky in the drafts. We have a lot of picks, (so) we’ll just try to keep the traditions that are high here and keep working hard, doing the right things and eventually we’ll turn it around.”

This game was similar to so many of these losses in this long, losing stretch.

There was no score through two periods, the Red Wings having failed on opportunities in the opening two periods, then watched as Washington converted on its best scoring chance of the game.

The Red Wings failed to keep the puck in the zone as it eluded defensemen Xavier Ouellet at the blue line, and the Capitals were off on a 2-on-0 break.

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Capitals forward Brett Connolly used Jakub Vrana as a decoy, and snapped a shot from the hash marks high corner that keep Howard for his 15th goal at 6 minutes, 41 seconds.

Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer made the lead, stopping 39 shots.

“Story of the season, isn’t it?” Howard said. “We played a solid 60-minute game and just didn’t get results.”

Coach Jeff Blashill saw a similar theme.

“It’s been like this too many times, where we haven’t been able to score when we had a good effort,” Blashill said. “We didn’t give up much, both teams were fairly good defensively, but we have to find a way to score.”

As has been often the case for the last two seasons, the Red Wings’ power play failed them through the first two periods.

The Red Wings enjoyed two power plays in the opening period and failed to convert, then had a glorious opportunity in the second period to take control — and didn’t do it.

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Penalties on Washington’s Lars Eller (high-sticking Anthony Mantha) and T.J. Oshie (tripping Nick Jensen) at 12:24 gave the Red Wings a full two-minute 5-on-3 advantage.

The Red Wings put five forwards on the first power-play unit, but despite the realignment, nothing clicked.

They only had four shots on net during the two-minute span, and Grubauer had a good look at everything in front of him.

A slight chorus of boos, and deservedly so, rained down as the power play expired, and rightfully so.

“We didn’t execute well enough,” Blashill said. “That should have run through Zetterberg (the five forward unit) a lot more. We didn’t execute well enough on it. Those have to be goals,  you have to find a way to score on that (a two-minute two-man advantage).”

The Red Wings appeared to take a 1-0 lead midway in the first period, but an apparent goal by Andreas Athanasiou was taken away.

Athanasiou gathered a rebound off Grubauer, wheeled around the net, and snapped a shot from the dot that beat Grubauer at 10:47 of the first period.

But upon review Tyler Bertuzzi interfered with Grubauer in the crease, knocking the goalie off balance to affect his ability to make a save.

“It can go either way (but) I kind of nudged him a little bit,” Bertuzzi said. “There’s a lot of calls (like that). It could have gone either way, too.”