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Surprising season comes to an end

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Henrik Zetterberg scored the game-tying goal just 26-seconds into the third period of Wednesday's Game 7 at the United Center. (Photo by Getty Images)

CHICAGO – For everything that the Red Wings have been through and overcame as a team this season – the injuries, the early losses, the growing pains of the young players – Wednesday’s overtime defeat in Game 7 to the archrival Chicago Blackhawks served as a cruel punch to the sternum.

The Red Wings took the Presidents’ Trophy winning ’Hawks to the brink of elimination, needing just one more victory after taking a 3-1 series lead. In the end, though, the Wings couldn’t complete the mission.

Chicago regrouped in Game 5, and eventually forced a Game 7, then 3 ½ minutes into overtime it got the game-winner on a lucky bounce from someone who hadn’t scored in the postseason. Brent Seabrook’s goal, which deflected in off of Niklas Kronwall, at 3:35 of overtime lifted the Blackhawks to a 2-1 victory at the United Center and a 4-3 series win that catapulted them into the Western Conference finals against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

“Right now it’s just empty,” Kronwall said. “I thought we played a pretty good game, stuck with it. Worked really hard. To go out like that is a tough way.”

The Red Wings battled for much of the first two periods Wednesday, and only trailed by one-goal entering the final 20-minutes of regulation. Certainly, in a Game 7 on the road, the Red Wings were feeling encouraged to be down by just one score in a hostile environment.

For all of the heat that the Red Wings took for their third-period imperfections during the playoffs – they were outscored 20-11 in the third – they showed an incredible resiliency in the most-important game of the season. For just the fourth time in the postseason, the Wings held an opponent scoreless in the third period.

Meanwhile, it was their captain, Henrik Zetterberg, the guy the Red Wings have counted on to rev-up the offensive engine in the biggest games of the season, made his presence known early in the third period.

“We thought we'd been playing good all game and came out strong in the third,” said Gustav Nyquist, who set-up Zetterberg’s goal. “Finally, we got one in. I think it gave us a lot of energy, I think we played a strong third period, had a couple chances. Overtime can go either way and unfortunately it went their way.”

The Red Wings started the third period in familiar territory, needing a few scores to move on the in playoffs. It was no different than when they had to win the last four games of the regular season just to make it into the postseason. Against Anaheim, they had to win the last two games of a seven-game series to advance to the conference semifinals. And then Wednesday at the United Center, Zetterberg, who produced 16 points in the seven must-have games, popped in the game-tying goal just 26-seconds into the third.

Zetterberg’s goal was set-up by a terrific play by Nyquist, who somehow, magically perhaps, slipped a cross-ice pass under a sliding Johnny Oduya to the waiting Red Wings’ captain, who fired a shot into the empty side of the net.

"Of course it was nice that we tied it up early in the third there,” said Zetterberg, who finished with a team-high 12 points in the playoffs. “After that we had momentum, we played well, we created a lot of chances. Unfortunately, we couldn't get one more past him.”

It was also unfortunate that the Red Wings played most of the game without center Valtteri Filppula who was injured in a collision with Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw.

However, the Filppula injury shouldn’t have happened. He was hurt when he joined in an altercation between Zetterberg and Shaw neat the gates to the team benches at 3:43 of the opening period. It appeared that as Shaw turned to push Filppula to the ice his leg was twisted in between the legs of the Blackhawk player.

“That's a big loss for us, obviously,” Nyquist said. “He's been great for us, he's an important player, plays on that top two line, so it was a lot of rotations today with the lines. It was logging a lot of minutes, obviously he plays a lot of minutes. So it was a big hole to fill. It was a big blow for us.”

Filppula did not return to the game after skating just 1:28 on two shifts.

Asked for an update on Filppula’s condition, coach Mike Babcock said, “He’s hurt. He’ll be ready for (training) camp.”

The Red Wings felt good heading into overtime, but then came Seabrook’s play where he wristed a shot from the slot that caromed off of Kronwall’s skate.

“I think it went off me and went right in,” he said. “I didn’t get good enough gap control there, didn’t get up. He was able to walk down, I tried to block it and it went off me and in.”

THREE STARS: 3, Corey Crawford, CHI (26 saves, W); 2, Jimmy Howard, DET (33 saves, L); 1, Brent Seabrook, CHI (1 goal).

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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