Babcock's future the focus as Red Wings head into offseason
DETROIT (AP) For the Detroit Red Wings, early exits from the postseason are becoming all too common.
That's not something that sits well with the storied franchise.
The Red Wings were eliminated by Tampa Bay in the first round when the Lightning edged Detroit 2-0 in Game 7 on Wednesday night. The focus will now turn to the future of coach Mike Babcock, who was in the last year of his contract - but in the immediate aftermath of their defeat, the Red Wings were left to look back on what might have been.
''We had a good team. We had a good chance, but unfortunately we couldn't get it done,'' forward Henrik Zetterberg said. ''I can only look to myself - couldn't really produce the way I wanted this postseason.''
The 34-year-old Zetterberg led the Red Wings in points during the regular season, but he had no goals and three assists in the series against Tampa Bay. Another elder statesman, 36-year-old Pavel Datsyuk, contributed three goals and two assists.
Detroit looked every bit the part of an underdog for the first two games of the series, managing a split in Tampa Bay despite being outshot badly, but the Red Wings played better as the series went along, winning Games 3 and 5 and losing Game 4 only because of a late rally by the Lightning.
Playing Game 7 on the road, Detroit outshot Tampa Bay 31-17, but it wasn't the Red Wings' night.
''We came hard the first 10 minutes,'' Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek said. ''We tried playing offense, throwing the puck to the net to get some rebounds.''
Mrazek was chosen over Jimmy Howard to start in these playoffs, and he responded with two shutouts.
''It was a great opportunity and I think it's going to help me for the future,'' Mrazek said. ''Great experience.''
The goaltending question will likely hang over the Red Wings for at least the immediate future. Howard signed a six-year contract with Detroit in 2013.
The big issue, however, is where Babcock will end up. His future figures to be the main topic of questioning when the Red Wings meet with reporters Friday.
Four teams are without head coaches at the moment - Toronto, Philadelphia, Buffalo and San Jose - and it's not too late for other teams to make changes.
Babcock has been the Red Wings' coach for a decade and led them to the Stanley Cup in 2008. They made another finals appearance the following year but have not advanced past the second round since. This was their third first-round exit in four years, although Detroit did extend its streak of playoff appearances to 24 seasons.
What helped keep that run going was the performance of a few younger players. Tomas Tatar led the team with 29 goals, and Gustav Nyquist scored 27. Danny DeKeyser and Luke Glendening have also become solid contributors.
''It was a tough series. They played really well,'' Tampa Bay's Braydon Coburn said. ''They know how to win and they play the right way. It was a heck of a series. A lot of credit to them. Their goalie played fantastic.''
But simply being competitive in the early rounds of the playoffs isn't the expectation in Detroit. The Red Wings have developed good talent through their minor league system, but they've struggled of late to make any major additions via trades or free agency.
Now Babcock is a free agent, and Red Wings fans can do little but wait to see what he decides to do - as the offseason begins earlier than Detroit wanted.