The Detroit Red Wings knew things were going to have to break absolutely perfectly for them to upset the top-seeded Boston Bruins, winner of the Presidents' Trophy, in their Eastern Conference First Round series.
Needless to say, Detroit did not get the breaks it needed. After a 1-0 victory at TD Garden in the opener, the Red Wings lost four in a row and were eliminated in five games.
It was a disappointing end for a team that weathered injuries and controversy throughout the season before authoring a terrific finishing kick that left them as the tournament's dark horse in the eyes of many.
It didn't work out that way, however. Here are five reasons for Detroit's inability to pull off the upset:
1. Questionable health
The Red Wings were not healthy enough to beat the Bruins. Captain Henrik Zetterberg returned in Game 4 after a long layoff because of a back injury. He was not effective. Starting goalie Jimmy Howard missed the final two games of the series while battling a flu bug that plagued both teams at times. Daniel Alfredsson missed both games in Detroit with an upper-body injury of his own. Pavel Datsyuk, the most dynamic player on the Red Wings, led the team in scoring with five points, but few believe he was playing at 100 percent after missing extensive time during the regular season with a leg injury. Simply, there was not enough continuity or comfort in the Detroit lineup to be competitive against an upper-echelon team.
2. Follow the leader
The Red Wings chased the game almost the entire series, leading for 16 minutes and 28 seconds of the 313:12 played in the series. In three of the games, Detroit never led at all.
But it wasn't even the lack of a lead; it was the fact that Detroit was rarely in a position to take the lead with a goal. In three of the five games, Boston scored the game-opening goal before the first period was halfway finished. As a result, Detroit was involved in a tied game for only 120 minutes and 11 seconds. That means Detroit trailed for more than 175 minutes. That is a recipe for disaster, regardless of the opponent.
3. Discipline problem
There weren't a ton of penalties called against Detroit, which is traditionally among the least-penalized teams in the League. In fact, the Red Wings gave Boston only 16 power plays in five games. The problem for the Red Wings was that Boston made Detroit pay regularly upon going to the box, scoring six times with the man advantage. In Game 5, Boston's opening goal and the goal that made it 2-1 in Boston's favor came on the power play. In Game 4, a power-play goal keyed Boston's three-goal rally. In Game 3, a power-play goal again opened the scoring in a 3-0 victory. In the 4-1 victory in Game 2, which evened the series at 1-1, Detroit allowed two power-play goals.
4. No Nyquist
In the regular season, forward Gustav Nyquist was a savior, scoring 48 points in 57 games and virtually carrying an injury-depleted team on his back and into the postseason.
Perhaps the effort was too much for Nyquist, who was held without a point in this series. That's right -- the offensive juggernaut of the second half of the season, the man who averaged a goal every second game for the Red Wings, was a non-factor in this series, blanketed into anonymity by the Boston defense. He had all of 13 shots in the series and almost no grade-A scoring chances.
5. Physical unfitness
The Red Wings were not built to play a team like the big, bruising Bruins, who like to get the puck in deep, punish opponents along the wall and develop a cycle. Boston had a field day against a Detroit defense that is built, for the most part, on speed and defense. Plus, Detroit could do little to physically wear on the Bruins. Left wing Justin Abdelkader was game, dishing out 21 hits in the series, including a couple of memorable ones against towering Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara, but he had little company.