Expectations were lower for the Detroit Red Wings this season than they had been in a long time, but they extended their streak of consecutive appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, that proved to be not enough.
The Red Wings rallied from a 3-2 series deficit and upset the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks following a 3-2 win in Game 7 on Sunday at Honda Center. Their reward is a spot in the Western Conference Semifinals against the rival Chicago Blackhawks.
It will be the last time the teams face each other as conference foes because Detroit is moving to the Eastern Conference next season as part of the NHL's realignment plan.
Here are five reasons the Red Wings are in the second round and Chicago-Detroit will be the marquee rivalry in the Western Conference, not Anaheim-Los Angeles:
1. A young defense corps improved
Anaheim's biggest advantage early in the series was how the Ducks' forwards were able to wreak havoc on the forecheck and in the neutral zone with their speed. The Red Wings' defensemen made too many mistakes under duress, but as the series progressed, the number and frequency of those mistakes dwindled. Game 7 easily was the best defensive effort of the series by Detroit.
Given Anaheim's forward depth, the Ducks just needed their big guns to play Detroit's stars to a draw. That didn't happen in the final two games. Datsyuk destroyed the Ducks during the first two periods of Game 6, and Zetterberg was a beast in both games. Zetterberg hadn't scored a goal in the first five games, but had three of the final five in the series for the Red Wings. Datsyuk was a menace defensively and still was able to find space in the middle of the ice even when Anaheim's players were devoted to denying him that.
3. Resiliency in overtime
Detroit won three times in overtime in the series, so obviously the extra time was good to the Red Wings. More remarkable is that twice they blew a lead in the third period in stunning fashion -- a three-goal advantage in Game 2 and a two-goal lead late in Game 6 -- but regrouped during the intermission and found a goal in overtime. They dominated the brief overtime in Game 6, which doubled as an elimination contest for them.
4. Justin Abdelkader returned
Abdelkader was suspended for two games because of a hit on Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman (who did not play the rest of the series) in Game 3. The Red Wings did split the games without him, but his return made the top line whole again in Game 6 and allowed coach Mike Babcock to tinker in Game 7 without missing a beat. Abdelkader had the key goal in Game 7 and had a shot of his deflected in during Game 6.
5. Mike Babcock still has it
Speaking of that tinkering, Babcock decided the day before Game 7 he would split up Zetterberg and Datsyuk, and it worked so well he left them apart the entire game instead of just for the first 10 minutes like originally planned. Babcock continued to keep faith in his young players, saying the longer the series went the better his team would be, and the Red Wings repaid him with a strong Game 7 performance. He wasn't afraid to change the lineup and pushed a lot of right buttons in this series.