When all was said and done, though, they left Boston on Sunday with a 4-2 loss, their postseason journey over after five games.
“We weren’t a tough out at all,” said Red Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock. “We were good in Game 1, and I thought we were good for a period and a half in Game 4. You know, I actually thought we were pretty good in here, in Game 2, in the second period. We got the game back to two to one, we made a mistake.
“But to find out how good [the Bruins] are, you’ve got to push them. You‘ve got to push them and push them. So you go back and forth in winning games, and you get to [Game] 6 or 7 -- we never did that. So you never know how good the other team is until you really push them.”
The Red Wings were good in Game 1, their only victory of this series. But after that, they were outplayed. Their youth showed, their inexperience showed and their struggles on special teams did them in.
“I thought our penalty kill let us down,” Babcock said. “It was so good all year, and then for whatever reason, we got ourselves rattled. We gave up two goals today.
“I thought our penalty kill let us down, and then the other thing is, for me, was we did some things uncharacteristic. I mean, we took three, if I’m not mistaken, too many men on the ice penalties. So are we round? Are we nervous as kids? I don’t think we played up to our level. I’m not trying to take anything away from Boston — real good team. Real heavy team. Real organized, all those things. But you want to be the best you can be, and I didn’t think we were.
“But it was a real good experience for our kids. We had lots of kids in this series that were important parts of the team that got us in the playoffs, and they found out how hard it is.”
During the regular season, Gustav Nyquist ranked second on the team in points and first in goals. Tomas Tatar ranked second in goals. In the playoffs, both players struggled to break through, finishing the series without a point between them.
As Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said after the game, playoff experience is something that cannot be taught, and it will doubtlessly serve the Wings well in the long run. But the Red Wings still would have liked to get more out of their young players during this series.
“It’s just about getting in to the playoffs — once you get there, it’s another notch,” said veteran forward Daniel Alfredsson. “I think we all talk about it, and become a little bit tighter. The referees let go a little bit more, it’s a little bit tough to create offense, and we certainly found that out.”
The veterans did everything they could — everything. The Red Wings scored six goals in this series, and three of them came off the stick of Pavel Datsyuk. Henrik Zetterberg returned from back surgery earlier than expected to give this team some leadership and some poise on the power play. Alfredsson fought through a bad back to give his team a fighting chance after missing Games 2 and 3.
In the end, though, they couldn’t do it all themselves. They needed a boost.
“We’re counting on kids,” Babcock said. “You know, straightforward, we’re counting on our young guys, and I thought that showed. I thought Alfredsson made a real difference today when he came in, just because he was poised with the puck. We didn’t have the power play early in the series. When Zetterberg came back — even though he couldn’t really, he was laboring out there, let’s be honest with you -- I thought he gave us a power play.
“So, but what are going to do about that? Nothing you can, sometimes. Sometimes, that’s the way it goes. So it’s important for our guys, and especially anybody older — we’ve got to have a big summer.”
Special teams was another huge difference-maker in this series — a positive difference-maker for Boston, and a a negative one for the Red Wings. On Saturday, each of the Bruins’ first two goals came on the man advantage, and to Detroit’s credit, they tied the game on the power play in the second period.
But the Red Wings made too many mistakes. Boston got away with its penalties thanks to a mammoth penalty kill — even more impressive considering it was without two of its most reliable penalty killers in Chris Kelly and Daniel Paille for the entirety of the series .
Detroit could not say the same.
“I think that they did a hell of a job,” said forward Johan Franzen. “Their special teams definitely outplayed us this series, both power play and penalty kill, but all the credit to them. They’ve been successful for many years here in the playoffs, and they’re a tough, tough, tough team to get into the net against, especially with the lead. So, you know, give them all the credit, and we battled hard, but we couldn’t seem to get the puck in the net.”
Added Alfredsson, “Their power play seemed to move the puck around with great confidence. They did a great job finding openings. They changed it up well. Once we changed, they changed again. I thought our power play obviously came on in the last few games here and helped us out a little bit, but that’s always a big battle, especially when goals are hard to come by five-on-five.
“Especially special teams, they owned the whole series, and you know, five-on-five, we had games or parts of games that we played really well, but really didn’t stick with it a whole 60 minutes in the games. You know, like I said before, they’ve done this for so many years now, and they know how to win in the playoffs.”
After Game 1 of this series, it seemed clear that if Detroit could play its game — if it could use its speed, its skating and its discipline to its advantage — this would be a long series. It seemed that whichever team could impose its will would win.
Once Game 1 was in the books, the Bruins got the Red Wings to play their game. They got the Red Wings to take too many penalties and get involved in too many post-whistle scrums, and it hurt Detroit.
“Especially Game 2, I guess, we took way too many roughing calls,” said defenseman Niklas Kronwall. “We got involved in scrums and things like that after the whistle for no need, for no reason whatsoever. Of course it’s a lot easier when you have five guys out there. Most of the penalties are penalties — you can’t say anything about that. You have to find a way to be better. And once the PK gets out, whether it’s PK or power play, we have to be able to take care of our chances and get the momentum going that way.”
Plain and simple, the Red Wings are sick of getting bounced in the first round. This is a team that is used to being dominant in the playoffs -- a team that has advanced to the postseason for 23 consecutive years, a team that won two straight conference championships in 2008 and in 2009, a team that won it all six years ago.
“You get some bitter disappointments,” Babcock said. “It’s a disappointing day, any way you look at it. You think you’re going to be good in the playoffs. You played hard, you battled hard, you fought your way in to it. You’ve been organized, detail-oriented. But at playoff time, Game 1 we were, and then stretches of the other games. But I thought, you know, I talked about our penalty kill, our neutral zone forecheck. Little things good veteran teams don’t deviate [from] — they just keep doing it right for 60. If it takes 80, they do it for 80. I thought we did it at times, but we weren’t consistent enough.”
These first-round exits, as Zedderberg said, are getting old.
“We keep the streak going with the playoff appearances, but it’s getting tired to not going deeper,” Zetterberg said. “We probably would have changed that streak and instead gone longer one of those years. That’s the thing — you want to go deep in the postseason, and to get kicked out early, it’s not a fun feeling and its been a little bit too many times lately.”