The Detroit Red Wings qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 25th consecutive season. But for the third season in a row and fourth time in five seasons, they failed to get past the first round.
The Red Wings were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference First Round for the second time in as many years. But unlike last spring, when the Red Wings led the series 3-2 and had two chances to win the series, Detroit went down in five games, ending with a 1-0 loss on Thursday.
"I thought we kept coming and coming and it speaks of the character and leadership of the whole room," coach Jeff Blashill said. "I thought we played well enough to win but obviously we didn't."
Here are five reasons the Red Wings were eliminated:
No finish, especially in the third period: Detroit didn't lack for shots on goal and scoring chances. The Red Wings averaged 32 shots on goal a game and outshot Tampa Bay 160-138, but they had no answers for Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop, who capped off a series in which he had a .950 save percentage by stopping all 34 shots on Thursday. Detroit carried the play for most of Game 5, but Riley Sheahan, Dylan Larkin and Darren Helm each failed to score on second-period breakaways.
"Extremely frustrating," Blashill said. "I thought our guys played really well and couldn't find a way to get the puck in the back of the net."
Detroit's biggest problems came in the third period. Tampa Bay's four victories came in games that were tied at some point in the third, but the Red Wings were outscored 6-1 in the final period; that includes Alex Killorn's series-winning goal with 1:43 remaining in the third period of Game 5. The Red Wings also allowed the winning goal to Ondrej Palat with 2:59 remaining in the third period of Game 4.
Power failure: Perhaps it was appropriate that the series ended with the Red Wings failing to score on a power play. Detroit finished the series with 25 man-advantage opportunities, more than anyone else thus far in this year's playoffs.
But the Red Wings scored just once, a third-period goal in a 5-2 loss in Game 2. Detroit had a long two-man advantage in the first period of Game 5 and didn't even get a shot on goal, then failed to capitalize on a last-minute advantage in which it again had two extra skaters after pulling goaltender Petr Mrazek.
Too much K-power: The Red Wings played a Tampa Bay team missing its top goal-scorer (Steven Stamkos) and a top-pair defenseman (Anton Stralman). But Detroit was unable to cope with Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn, who matched Detroit's entire production by combining for eight goals. Kucherov scored five times and had three assists for a series-best eight points. Killorn scored three times, including the winning goals in Games 1 and 5, and finished with five points.
In contrast, no Detroit player scored more than one goal, and only Tomas Tatar (three assists) and Mike Green (one goal, one assist) had more than one point.
Stars didn't shine: Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have been cornerstones of the Red Wings' success during the past decade. However, neither generated much offense against the Lightning. Zetterberg had one point, a goal, in the five games. Datsyuk, who said before the series began that he plans to go home to Russia after this season for family reasons, did not have a point. Each was a plus player during the series, but neither generated the kind of offense the Red Wings needed.
"Their best players outplayed our best players," Zetterberg said. "We've got to produce more, including me."
Not enough from Howard: Goaltender Jimmy Howard's play down the stretch was a big reason the Red Wings earned the final playoff berth in the East. Howard stepped up after Mrazek struggled in the final weeks of the season. That earned him the start in each of the first two games against Tampa Bay. But Howard didn't come through; he allowed three goals in Game 1, including the winner midway through the third period, then surrendered four more in Game 2.
Coach Jeff Blashill then turned to Mrazek, who shut out Tampa Bay 2-0 in Game 3 and allowed four goals in the final three games of the series.