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Frustrating season comes to end for Wings

by Michael Caples / Detroit Red Wings
A frustrating season came to a bitter end for the Red Wings Saturday night.

After making back-to-back appearances in the Stanley Cup finals, the Wings were bounced from the Stanley Cup playoffs -- dropping a 2-1 decision in Game 5 -- by the San Jose Sharks in their best-of-seven game Western Conference semifinals.

It was the first time in 18 years that the Wings entered the postseason lower than a No. 4 seed. After going seven games to advance past the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round, Detroit was eliminated by the Sharks – their earliest playoff exit since 2006.

The season began with high hopes for the Wings, who were looking to become the first team to reach the Stanley Cup finals three straight years since the Edmonton Oilers (1983-85).

The Wings opened the 2009-10 regular season with a two-game series against the St. Louis Blues in Sweden. The outcomes, however, were unfortunate for the Wings, as the Blues managed to overcome two-goal deficits in 4-3 and 5-3 losses.

The return home marked the beginning of a devastating injury string for the Wings. In their Oct. 8 home opener against Chicago, forward Johan Franzen suffered a torn ACL, which caused him to miss 55 games.

Throughout the season, the Wings were forced to compete without a full roster. In November, Valtteri Filppula (wrist), Jason Williams (leg), and Niklas Kronwall (knee) and missed time. In December, Henrik Zetterberg, Dan Cleary and Jonathan Ericsson missed a combined 32 games. In total, 10 Wings missed at least five straight games due to injury. Eight injured players missed game action at the same time, and the Wings roster had a grand total of 312 games missed because of injuries.

Yet after the Olympic break, the Wings featured a healthy roster for the first time since their trip to Sweden. Detroit surged up the Western Conference standings, posting the best record in the NHL through March and April (16-3-2). With questions swirling about possibly missing the playoffs for the first time since 1990, the Wings finished fifth place in the conference and were seen as Stanley Cup contenders by many.

But the series against Phoenix featured the same highs and lows that the Wings had battled all season. Detroit lost Game 1, putting them in an uphill climb from the start. With a chance to finish off the Coyotes at Joe Louis Arena in Game 6, the Wings disappointed with a 5-2 loss.

Fortunately for their fans, the Wings were able to rebound in Game 7, and dominated the game from the opening face-off. The visiting Detroit squad cruised to a 6-1 win, with captain Nicklas Lidstrom’s three-point night leading the way.

The Wings headed into a second-round series against the Sharks with high expectations. While considered one of the top teams in the Western Conference year-after-year, the Sharks had made a habit of early playoff exits. At the same time, the Wings always seemed to find a way to beat their conference foe. Detroit defeated San Jose in six games in 2007, and they have held a 48-18-5 record against the Sharks in regular-season games.

A few different breaks and the series could have had a better outcome for the Wings.

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