DETROIT - The Detroit Red Wings rallied to extend their post-season streak to 22, the longest in North American professional sports. Then, they got within a win of making an improbable appearance in the Western Conference finals.
Detroit, though, failed to finish off Chicago after taking a 3-1 series lead, losing three straight, including a 2-1 overtime loss in Game 7 against the Blackhawks on Wednesday night.
"It stings," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said Thursday. "Everybody in our organization is down because we had a great chance to get to the final four. But give Chicago credit because they got it done and we didn't."
Holland said he has mixed emotions about the year. He is disappointed Detroit couldn't win one more game, perhaps in Game 6 when it had a third-period lead at home, to advance for a second time this post-season. Holland is encouraged, though, by how well the team's veterans led, and the ways its inexperienced players improved during a rebuilding season.
"We have a lot of pieces in place, enough to beat the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks and to be up 3-1 on the top team in the league," he said. "There are a lot of good things going on, but we want to get further than Game 7 in the second round."
The Red Wings hope to get past the second round next year for the first time since 2009—when they were a win away from repeating as Stanley Cup champions—by agreeing to win-win deals with Damien Brunner, Valtteri Filppula, Daniel Cleary and Drew Miller before they hit the market as unrestricted free agents.
"We had teams inquiring about some of them at the trade deadline, but we made the decision to keep them and see how far they could go," Holland said. "Now, we'd like to re-sign them if their finances fit in with our finances."
As soon as July 5, Holland hopes he can sign Pavel Datsyuk to a new contract so that next season isn't the final one on the superstar's deal.
"We're going to talk to Pav's agent in a while because we would like to get an extension done," Holland said "But we'll see because we're in a cap world."
It won't cost the franchise as much to re-sign restricted free agents Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl.
"We want them back, without a doubt," Holland said
A year after swinging and missing in attempts to sign Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, Holland doesn't plan to even attempt to make a splash this summer in free agency.
"There are no quick fixes and free agency isn't the answer," Holland said. "It is just a tool to get finishing touches, but we'll explore trades and we'll keep an eye on players that are bought out of their contracts."
The Red Wings are counting on the return of three key forwards—Darren Helm, Mikael Samuelsson and Todd Bertuzzi—- after they combined to play just 12 games during the regular season because of injuries. They also lost rookie defenceman Danny DeKeyser, who coach Mike Babcock credited with helping them make the playoffs, because of a broken thumb in the first round.
In all, Detroit's injured players combined to miss 243 games during the regular season and 34 in the playoffs.
"We were No. 1 in the league in man-games lost due to injury and the depth of our organization allowed us to stay afloat," Holland said. "If we only add Helm and DeKeyser, we're a little better, but we want to do more than that if we can to get a lot better."
Goaltender Jimmy Howard was healthy enough to play 42 of 48 games in the lockout-shortened season. He started all 14 playoff games, and did enough to earn a six-year, $31.8 million contract signed in April to stay with the franchise that drafted him a decade ago.
Howard has high hopes for the future.
"There's a lot of great things you can take out of this season," Howard told reporters in Chicago. "A lot of guys stepped up for us. The guys have a lot of good experience here moving forward and we're moving in the right direction."
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