My Detroit Red Wings lost tonight to the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime of Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
I have to admit I didn’t hold out much hope that the Wings would win this series. Heck, there was a time I didn’t think they’d make the playoffs. There were big changes before the start of this lockout-shortened season, most notably the retirement of Norris Trophy-winning defenseman and Perfect Human Nicklas Lidstrom, and the decision by Brad Stuart to play for the San Jose Sharks, because his family lives in SoCal and he wanted to be near them. A noble reason, and good for him for putting family first, but it stunk for the Wings.
Then once the shortened season got going, it seemed the Wings’ players were making a steady march to the infirmary. At one point I believe there were nine players out with injuries – nine! The upside of all these injuries is that a lot of the young players from the farm team in Grand Rapids got invaluable big league experience.
Probably due, at least in part, to all the injuries, the Wings were not a very good team this season. They hovered near the bottom of the Western Conference standings all season, and with just a few weeks to go, the Wings and a couple other teams kept trading spaces on a regular basis – one day the Wings were in ninth place, the next they were in seventh. Since only eight teams in each conference make the playoffs, this was cause for much hand-wringing by Wings fans. Fortunately they made it in – in seventh place – and the 20 consecutive playoff appearances record was intact. We Wings fans had hope – Los Angeles won the Cup last year as a seventh seed, so anything was possible.
After dispatching the Anaheim Ducks in seven games, the Wings faced the top-seeded, President’s Trophy-winning Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Semifinals, and played game 1 like they didn’t belong on the same ice. Let me just say for the record that before the series I did not think the Wings would beat the Blackhawks. Chicago is just a better team. Some people may think that makes me less of a fan but I don’t think it does. It means I can look at my team objectively, and not be all “the Wings are gonna win the Cup!” every season. Because they’re not. Anyway, back to Chicago – the Wings played horribly in game 1, and I thought if they continued to play that way it would be a short series. Fortunately they played like a team on a mission in game 2 and beat the Blackhawks in Chicago, then proceeded to win games 3 and 4 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit!
Yes, the seventh-seeded Detroit Red Wings, who barely made the playoffs, were leading the regular-season champion Chicago Blackhawks three games to one. I thought, “hey, wait a minute – the Wings could actually win this thing! All they have to do is win one more game and Chicago’s done!” I might have picked the Blackhawks to win the series, but I hoped – oh, how I hoped! – I would be wrong!
However, Detroit proceeded to lose the next two games, and before you could sing the chorus to “Don’t Stop Believing,” the series was tied. The Wings were facing a game seven – again. My confidence in the Wings was waning. I still wanted them to win but I didn’t feel as if they could. They played well in tonight’s game 7, hanging right with the Blackhawks through regulation, which ended in a 1-1 tie. Unfortunately the Blackhawks scored in overtime, and they will be the team that goes on to play the Los Angeles Kings. The Wings will come home and look to next season.
Despite the loss, I am proud of the Detroit Red Wings for what they accomplished this season. Sure, it was a frustrating ride at times – we Wings fans aren’t use to seeing our team hovering near the bottom of the standings – and there were times we wondered if they would even make the playoffs. They became this scrappy underdog team that few believed in and they made people stand up and take notice. No, the Wings will not win the Stanley Cup this year. But look out – this team has a bright future. The Wings will be back.