The fact the Detroit Red Wings lost an opening round playoff series to Tampa Bay (4-1) came as little surprise. The Lightning were clearly the superior team, even without the services of their two best players.
Yet several things in the deciding Game 5 were surprising indeed. For most of the game, the Red Wings carried the play. They gave Tampa Bay all they could handle on their home ice. Credit the Motowners for roaring back with a fine effort after being considered all but dead.
Actually, the Red Wings should have won the game. But two crucial factors reared their ugly heads.
Detroit had four -- count-em -- FOUR clean cut breakaways to skate in on the TB goaltender. They couldn't put a single one in the net. Great goaltending? Perhaps. But highly skilled shooters at point-blank range aren't supposed to miss that many times in a row.
As the game wound down -- still scoreless -- it appeared headed for overtime. Anything could happen. First goal wins. If Detroit got it, they would have been down 3-2 in the series, headed back home for Game 6 -- and who knows?
But in the closing seconds, they pulled another bonehead. Again, four -- count-em -- FOUR Detroit defenders had their own net surrounded. Yet somehow a single Tampa Bay player swooped in and scored a goal from just a couple feet away.
Tampa Bay 1, Detroit 0. Though the Red Wings got a last ditch power-play, which amounted to a two man advantage with their own goalie pulled, they never seriously threatened to score the tying tally.
Tick, tick, tick, and the clock finally read 0:00. Tampa Bay won and moves on. Detroit flies home and the players scatter to the winds for another long off-season. Though the Wings can proudly say they've made it to the playoffs for 25 straight years, they haven't made it out of the second round for the last seven.
In the bigger picture, does/did anybody really care about who made the playoffs, in whatever sport, only to be quickly bounced? It's a double-edged sword. A team owner gets some major cha-chings for home playoff dates, with the ticket prices being even more outrageous than usual. Their rabid fans will climb all over each other and pony up whatever big bucks are necessary for the privilege of scoring some tickets.
But the fact his team DID make the playoffs means they slide down in the draft the following year, plus, theoretically, are slapped with a "tougher" schedule by the league. Barely sneaking into the playoffs only to get quickly eliminated has its pros and cons.
Nevertheless, the Red Wings are history for another year. They put up a valiant effort against a superior team, but the outcome from the start seemed almost inevitable.
Lucky breaks here, goalposts clanked there, and weird bounces of the puck -- both ways. Throw in missed opportunities and a "bonehead" at a crucial time, and 4-1 is just about right.
Best team won.