Even during their rebuilding season, the Detroit Red Wings still present a great threat in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Don’t be fooled by their post-season prowess, this was most certainly a rebuilding year for the Red Wings and it was a struggle just to clinch a spot.
Had it not been for a late season surge, winning their last four games, the Wings would not have extended the longest current playoff streak in major sports. It was only after their final regular season game that the Wings clinched the seventh seed in the Western Conference. It didn’t always seem like they would extend their playoff streak to 22 years through a roller-coaster season that was full of injuries and learning curves. The team featured a much younger look this year, ranking 14th in the league with an average age of 27.65. Due to free agent departures and player retirements, an often veteran squad turned to rookies to fill the void. Injuries to veterans Mikael Samuelsson, Carlo Colaiacovo, Darren Helm and Todd Bertuzzi also opened the door for younger players to earn themselves a regular playing spot. The emergence of Detroit’s younger players led to journeyman veteran Ian White being a healthy scratch down the stretch and into the playoffs. Four young defencemen made their playoff debuts this season, with rookie Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl having major impacts on the blue line. Even though they barely squeaked into the post-season dance, the Wings kept on rolling and upset the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks, eliminating them in 7 games. Then they had the Chicago Blackhawks, the best team in the league, on the verge on elimination and took them to overtime of game 7 before Brent Seabrook ended their potential Cinderella story. Despite the regular season struggles, the Wings were able to turn their struggles around quickly and here are a few reasons why they were able to be such a post-season surprise:
Red Wings Goaltending
The play of fourth-year starter Jimmy Howard was a huge reason the Wings made the playoffs, and he was the biggest reason for their post-season success. During the regular season, the 29 year old started all but six games while posting a .923 save percentage and a 2.13 goals against average with a much weaker defence corps in front of him. Only three of Detroit’s 24 wins came without Howard between the pipes.
To secure a playoff spot, Howard only allowed three goals in the final four games, including posting two shutouts. He was one of five goaltenders tied for the league lead in shutouts, with five, during the shortened season. In the playoffs, Howard was consistently one of the Wings’ best players. He posted career-best statistics and silenced the critiques that he can not step up in big games. He was the only goaltender to shutout the Blackhawks all season, and he stopped 46 of 48 shots during the Wings’ three wings over the President’s Trophy winners. If Howard can continue his play from this season, the Wings will be solid between the pipes for many years to come.
The Leaders - For the first time since 1990, the Detroit Red Wings had to do without star defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom. Fellow Swede Henrik Zetterberg enherited the captaincy and with Pavel Datsyuk and Niclas Kronwall’s aide, they led the Wings to yet another post-season appearance. Zetterberg led the team in playoff points and finished one point back of Datsyuk for the team lead in the regular season. Kronwall emerged this season as the top blue liner for the Wings finishing fourth in team scoring. He played the most of any Red Wing, averaging 24:21 in ice time per game. Datsyuk was up to his old tricks. He led the team in points (49) and goals (15) while maintaining a +21 and was nominated yet again for the Frank J. Selke Trophy. Datsyuk won the trophy, awarded to the league’s best defensive forward, three times and this is his seventh nomination.
Red Wings Roster Bright Spots
The Young Guns - The biggest surprise for the Red Wings this season was the play of their rookies. Throughout the season, many young Wings were given an opportunity to showcase their abilities and Red Wings fans should be excited about the future. Damien Brunner was the most impressive of the group, leading the group in scoring and ranking fifth on the team in regular season scoring. He also led the team in playoff goals and scored the overtime winner in game four against Anaheim. The third line of Brunner, Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist was consistently productive in the playoffs, and they received playing time over veterans Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson and Jordin Tootoo. Nyquist was promoted to play alongside Zetterberg in game seven against Chicago due to injury, and he set up the tying goal that forced overtime.
On the back end, Brian Lashoff and Danny DeKeyser made their NHL debut’s and both saw playing time in the playoffs. Kindl and Smith also saw their promotion to regular play, meaning half of the defence corps made their post-season debuts. Between the pipes the future looks bright with former Ottawa 67′s and World Junior star Petr Mrazek. The Czech made his NHL debut winning his first game and posted a .922 save percentage in his first two games. The future certainly looks bright in Hockeytown.