For the first time in five years, the Detroit Red Wings reached the Western Conference final. For the first time in 11 years, however, the Red Wings lost in the conference final.
As the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators prepare to battle for what will turn out to be one of those franchises’ first Stanley Cup, it’s time to look back at the Red Wings’ post-season and assess individual performances.
The team as a whole fared quite well, overcoming the loss of Niklas Kronwall for the entire post-season and Mathieu Schneider for the final seven games as well as lesser injuries to Tomas Holmstrom, Brett Lebda and Todd Bertuzzi to advance to the third round.
There was even the mystery of Kyle Calder, who went from playing 15 minutes per game to five minutes per game to being benched in favor of Tomas Kopecky to being listed as behind Jiri Hudler on the depth chart. Was Calder hurt? Was he just ineffective or was there another reason?
Here’s a look at how the Red Wings fared as the team went 10-8 in the post-season, coming within 48 seconds of taking a 3-2 series lead over the Ducks. (Grades are for the 18 games of the post-season only. Marks are lowered for missing time either through injury or benching.)
DOMINIK HASEK A: A healthy Hasek is a goalie who can lead a team to the Cup. This spring, Hasek gave the Red Wings their best playoff goaltending since … Dominik Hasek in 2002. With a 1.79 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage, Hasek was better than in the regular season. He let in a couple of softies, but even at 42, no goalie shuts the door better when his team has a chance to win.
CHRIS CHELIOS A-: Chelios started the playoffs averaging 16 minutes per game, but was consistently losing 24 to 26 minutes per game after Schneider went down. He was first on the team in blocked shots (33). He was third among defensemen in hits (behind Andreas Lilja and Danny Markov). He helped Kyle Quincey look like a veteran. He had the highest plus-minus among blue-liners (plus-7) and wasn’t a negative in any of the three rounds. He even became a regular on the second power-play unit. Chelios couldn’t have been better.
BRETT LEBDA C: At first glance, Lebda had an off post-season. His speed was taken away when he crashed feet first into the boards and twisted his ankle, missing six games. Lebda wasn’t as noticeable on the rush as he was in the regular season although that started to return in Game 4 of the Anaheim series. Lebda loses marks for being absent for six games. But on the plus side, he came back early to help the team and good things happened when he was on the ice (plus-4).
NICKLAS LIDSTROM A+: Lidstrom had too many giveaways (NHL-worst 25 through three rounds). OK, that’s the bad of it. On the good side, Lidstrom led the Wings in scoring, had at least one goal in every series and did a remarkable job against Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton and Teemu Selanne. Lidstrom was a big key to the power play, but did finish as a zero plus-minus, including being a minus-3 in the Anaheim series.
ANDREAS LILJA B+: Yes, he gave the puck away. Yes, it turned around the conference final. Lilja had too many giveaways (third worst on the team with 23) for a player whose game is supposed to be safety first. But were it not for that one giveaway that led to the Selanne goal in Game 5, however, Lilja would be talked about as a remarkable playoff find. He sat a lot of the season as the seventh defenseman, but he logged 19 minutes per game in the playoffs, not missing a contest. He led the Wings in hits by a wide margin (55) and was second in the league to Sammy Pahlsson through the conference final. The way that Lilja played, it’s debatable whether the team lost much being without Kronwall.
DANNY MARKOV A-: Although everyone deals out the credit for containing the opposition’s top line to Lidstrom, Markov was being sent over the boards as well by Coach Mike Babcock every time that Selanne, Thornton and Iginla touched the ice. His defense-only style paid dividends in the first two rounds, but against Anaheim, Markov slumped, being a minus-4.
KYLE QUINCEY C+: It’s tempting to give the rookie a higher grade. It’s difficult to find many mistakes made by Quincey in his 13 post-season games, but keep in mind that he was being heavily protected by Babcock. When Quincey became a regular, the Wings’ use of three defense tandems was abandoned. Babcock went with two pairs and then rotated his fifth and sixth defensemen in with one of the top four. Still, the 21-year-old with more NHL playoff experience than regular-season experience, Quincey proved that he’s going to be a regular in the league.
MATHIEU SCHNEIDER B-: His shattered wrist really hurt the Red Wings’ chances. In the first round, Schneider had four points, including a goal, was a plus-3 and had a league-high 34 shots on goal. His troubles getting shots through the San Jose defense in the second round are well documented (four shots on goal in five games), but he still managed two points, including a goal, and was a plus-1.
TODD BERTUZZI C+: Big Bert missed the first two games because of his back injury and then had a setback late in the Anaheim series. In between, Bertuzzi had a few flashes (three goals), but too few. Bertuzzi’s biggest highlight was likely when he fought Dion Phaneuf and slammed the Calgary defenseman onto the ice.
KYLE CALDER F: Hopefully, we’ll find out the truth about Calder’s disappearance. He was getting quality minutes in the Calgary series, but didn’t produce much. That continued with a 15-minute Game 1 against San Jose, but after that, his ice time plummeted. Calder didn’t reach 15 minutes of ice time in any two games combined over the next seven games. Was he hurt? Did he fall out of favor? We do know this, Calder was benched by Game 3 of the conference final after tallying one point (an assist) in 13 playoff games.
DAN CLEARY A: Best bargain on the team. You could make an argument – a very very strong argument – that Cleary was the Wings’ MVP of the post-season through the first round. His hit on Phaneuf and subsequent assist was a series-turning moment. Cleary was fourth on the team in scoring and had at least one goal in each round. He was second among forwards in blocked shots (to Kris Draper) and second among forwards in hits (to Kirk Maltby). Better still, for a guy who had some turnover troubles in the regular season, Cleary had just seven in the post-season – 12 Red Wings had more. He can win a faceoff, is a regular on the power play and penalty-kill.
PAVEL DATSYUK A+: He entered the playoffs with a three-year long goalless drought in the post-season and came out with a team-high eight goals. Datsyuk didn’t perform as well on the road as he did at home, but overall, he was marvelous. Babcock moved him back to center and he won 56 percent of his faceoffs. He also had an NHL-best 26 takeaways through the conference final – a stat he led the league in during the regular season. Keep in mind that when Datsyuk and Zetterberg were split apart, it was Datsyuk’s line that drew the opposition’s top checking unit.
KRIS DRAPER C-: Everything fell apart for Draper’s line in the conference final. Draper had no points, one shot on goal and was a minus-7 against Anaheim. He didn’t register an assist in the entire post-season and was without a point in 17 of the 18 games. His line performed well against Calgary, not scoring and not allowing goals, but started to stumble against San Jose before floundering against Anaheim.
VALTTERI FILPPULA B-: There were two big playoff highlights for Filppula. He scored the first goal of the Red Wings’ post-season and had two goals through two games. He also made the remarkable set-up on Robert Lang’s goal – winning the battle at the blue line and making a good pass -- in San Jose that turned that series around. Overall, Filppula wasn’t as effective as he was in the regular season, despite getting time on the top line. It was, however, worth gold in experience for a young player who should become a regular for years in Detroit.
JOHAN FRANZEN B+: Franzen proved himself to be a valuable playoff commodity – a second-tier forward who plays tough and produces big goals. He had the overtime goal that ended the Calgary series – part of a five-point, plus-7 first round for the big Swede. Franzen’s performance slipped after that round as he went without a point in 10 of the next 12 games. Still, Franzen finished as a team-high plus-eight and was a minus in just two of 18 games. And he bounced back nicely from being sawed in half by Jamie McLennan of Calgary.
TOMAS HOLMSTROM A-: Homer would get a solid A were it not for being absent for three games because of a nasty eye injury. Holmstrom was the one Detroit player that the national writers raved about as they watched the Red Wings in the playoffs. His work just outside the crease has become close to perfect. Holmstrom scored a team-high three goals against Anaheim.
JIRI HUDLER C-: Unfortunately for Hudler, he was the 13th forward on a 12-forward team. Funny thing was that when Calder played, Hudler was ahead of Kopecky. Then when Kopecky was put in the lineup, Hudler was ahead of Calder. The rookie did manage to get into six games (Babcock must have been looking the other way) and was a plus-2 with two assists. Hudler’s post-season performance didn’t drop off from his regular-season play. He created offensive opportunities and was responsible defensively. Had he played more, Hudler would receive a B or higher.
TOMAS KOPECKY C: Kopecky was put on a shelf Dec. 14 when he broke his collar bone in four places. The young Slovak, however, worked hard at rehab and made himself available for the playoffs. When Calder’s game went south, it was Kopecky who was inserted in the lineup to provide some size and physical play. In four games, he saw very limited ice time and took a couple of penalties.
ROBERT LANG B+: Lang scored the biggest goal of Detroit’s post-season … sending Game 4 in San Jose into overtime when his wrist shot beat Evgeni Nabokov. Lang finished as a plus-5 and had just two of 18 games as a minus player. He cut down on his turnover rate from the regular season, although he still had too many (21). One odd thing about Lang’s post-season is that he turned into a poor faceoff man. He’s the only Detroit center who was below 50 percent on draws, finishing well below at 39.5 percent.
KIRK MALTBY C+: Maltby was more physical in the post-season than in the regular season and continued to be a leader in drawing opposition penalties. He teamed with Cleary to form a dynamic penalty-kill duo up front. Maltby’s post-season had a good beginning, adequate middle and sub-par end. He was a plus-2 against Calgary and a minus-2 against Anaheim.
MIKAEL SAMUELSSON B: Sammy is a tough one to grade. He didn’t show much against Calgary, then heated up for three goals in two games against San Jose. Then in the Anaheim series, he turned into a set-up man with six assists and no goals. Two things weigh heavily in Samuelsson’s favor. He was a thorn in the opposition’s side with enemy players going out of their way to try to get at him. And he filled in nicely on the point on the first power-play unit when Schneider went down. The Red Wings’ power play was still productive with Samuelsson on the blue line.
HENRIK ZETTERBERG A-: All Wings fans would love to see what would have happened this spring had Zetterberg’s back been at 100 percent. It was noticeable during the Calgary series that Hank wasn’t able to do what he wanted on the ice. Still, he scored six goals – two in each series -- and was an effective weapon. One disappointment was that when centering his own line late in the playoffs, Zetterberg wasn’t able to produce more with Datsyuk’s line drawing the toughest defenders.