DETROIT - The Detroit Red Wings regularly were Stanley Cup contenders not long ago.
Lately, they've had to rally in the regular season just to make the playoffs. And since losing the Stanley Cup finals rematch to Pittsburgh in 2009, Detroit has not had a deep run in the post-season.
The Red Wings' latest early exit happened in Boston on Saturday, where the Bruins won Game 5 of their first-round series. Boston was simply the better team, by any measure, much like Detroit used to be this time of year against most opponents.
The Red Wings hoisted the Cup in 2008 for the fourth time in an 11-season stretch and had a great shot to repeat the next year. Since then, they have been eliminated in the second round three times and in the opening round twice.
Daniel Alfredsson thought the storied franchise was set up to win a championship when he chose to leave the Ottawa Senators — the only NHL team he had played for — last summer. The 41-year-old forward ended up among the many Detroit players who had an injury-stunted season.
Alfredsson told reporters in Boston he likely will re-sign with the Red Wings as a free agent if he does not retire.
"As a family we've had a fabulous time in Detroit," he said. "Everybody likes it. That's check one, I guess.
"Once I start that process, probably in a few weeks, you ... evaluate everything. Looks like they have a bright future going forward."
By the Red Wings' standards, they rushed a slew of prospects to the Motor City this season.
Detroit's roster was so banged up — injured players combined to miss a franchise-record 421 games — that nine skaters made their NHL debut during the regular season. The Red Wings also relied on other young players, such as Gustav Nyquist, and many made the most of the opportunity to help the franchise extend its post-season streak to 23.
Nyquist had a team-high 28 goals — 23-year-old Tomas Tatar ranked second — and led the league in goals from Jan. 20 through the end of the regular season.
The 24-year-old Swede was stopped cold by the bigger Bruins, who held him without a point and shut down the rest of Detroit's young players for the most part.
"Kids in general aren't very successful at playoff time unless they're one of three on a line or they're the sixth D man," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "When you're counting on them, I think it's hard for them. When you can surround them with a bunch of veterans to look after them, it's a totally different thing.
"When you're counting on them, they get here and they find out there's no space and they wonder what's going on."
After being out for two months while recovering from back surgery, Henrik Zetterberg had a goal and an assist in his second game back Saturday. Pavel Datsyuk, playing with an ailing left knee, had five points in the playoffs; none of his teammates had more than two.
The Red Wings are counting on Zetterberg and Datsyuk to come back healthy next season. They also desperately need Johan Franzen to shake off his latest scoring slump and return to his form during the playoffs from 2008 through 2010 when he had 59 points in a three-post-season stretch.
Detroit signed Franzen to an 11-year contract in 2009, leading Babcock to say the franchise needs him to be an "impact player," next season.
"The bottom line, he has to be," Babcock acknowledged.
The Red Wings should have money to make big moves this summer because several veterans with expiring contracts will likely give general manager Ken Holland a lot of salary cap space.
Zetterberg is hoping the team not only earns a spot in a 24th straight post-season, but sticks around longer than it has lately.
"We keep the streak going with the playoff appearances, but it's getting tiring of not getting deeper," he said.
Follow Larry Lage on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/larrylage
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