By Ashley Dunkak
JOE LOUIS ARENA (CBS DETROIT) – After relentlessly pushing toward the goal of making the playoffs and finally achieving that goal Wednesday, the Detroit Red Wings followed up that success with a 2-1 loss Friday to the Carolina Hurricanes in the final regular season game at Joe Louis Arena.
Veteran Johan Franzen suggested the team suffered from a hangover effect after sealing its spot in the postseason. Niklas Kronwall agreed with that assertion, and so did head coach Mike Babcock. Though none of them condoned the letdown, they all recognized the possible cause.
“No question. You might even expect it, but to me, that’s not an excuse,” Babcock said. “We have a good enough team to win tonight. We’ve just got to play right. At one point I said to the guys in the second period, we had a four-on-three, they had a three-on-one, we had a three-on-two, that’s not how we play. That’s river hockey. That’s a different time. That’s not how we’re going to have success. I was disappointed in the fact that we didn’t stick to what we have to do to have success, but it’s a good reminder for us too.
“We turned the puck over I don’t know how many times, and needlessly, for no reason,” Babcock continued. “In the end, their goaltender [Cam Ward] was really good, and we didn’t make it hard enough for him. We didn’t have enough net presence and second chances, and then just intensity. We had wide-open nets to shoot in. If you’re focused and you’re dialed in, you shoot it in the net.”
The Red Wings got in a hole early when Carolina scored a power play goal midway through the first period, just 41 seconds after Detroit drew a penalty for too many men on the ice. About 10 more minutes ticked off the game clock, and the Hurricanes scored again, widening the gap to 2-0 as the first period ended. At that point, Detroit had an 11-8 advantage in shots on goal.
After a scoreless second period in which Detroit again got more shots, the Red Wings finally got onto the board in the third period, pulling within 2-1 when Riley Sheahan pushed in a rebound, a goal assisted by Tomas Jurco and Tomas Tatar, the other members of the young bunch known as the Kid Line.
Detroit got quality looks at the net and took some solid shots but could not close the gap. The Red Wings also took yet another penalty for too many man on the ice, though they killed that one. Detroit pulled goalie Jimmy Howard for the last 1:13 of the game, but time ran out for the Red Wings.
“We had our fair share of chances,” Kronwall said. “We just couldn’t bear down when we got them.
“There’s a certain style of play you have to play in the playoffs to be able to have some success,” Kronwall added. “Tonight the first period wasn’t the game we want to be playing. We know that we have to get back to basics and get back to playing the way we have here as of late.”
During an in-game interview earlier in the week, Babcock had said this year’s team did not always play right, but it played hard. The coach was not quite so effusive about the group’s effort Friday. He thought the performance against Carolina seemed out of character.
“I didn’t think it was like we play,” Babcock said. “I thought we didn’t have that much intensity through two periods. I thought we had a good push, but reality is we weren’t good enough. I mean we had tons of chances, our goaltender was good, but we didn’t play right, and when you don’t play hard enough and you don’t play right, you don’t win. As a group, we weren’t good enough. That’s plain and simple.”
The Red Wings won five of their six games between March 29 and April 8, but Friday’s loss was their second consecutive defeat. The Red Wings play their final regular season game Sunday on the road against the St. Louis Blues.
“We’ve been on a pretty good roll here lately, last few weeks we’ve been getting better, but I thought today we kind of took a little bit of a step back, so we’ll just forget about this one,” Gustav Nyquist said. “We turned the puck over way too many times, didn’t take care of the puck enough, didn’t get it deep. We had some chances, but we could have created more, I think, if we took care of the puck a little bit better, so we’ll forget about this one and move on to Sunday.”
Depending on whether the Red Wings end up with the first or second wild card slot, they will face either the Boston Bruins or the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.