BOSTON -- Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg put into perspective what it meant to be done early again, on what it meant to not be a tough out at all.
The playoff ride that began with such excitement and expectation crashed Saturday afternoon at TD Garden, as the Presidents' Trophy-winning Boston Bruins claimed the series after five games with a 4-2 victory. It left the Wings introspective, and irritated. Here they had worked so hard to get into the playoffs for a record-setting 23rd straight time, and now there they were, done by late April.
"That's the thing," Zetterberg said. "We keep the streak going with the playoff appearances, but it's getting tired not going deeper. We probably would have changed that streak and instead gone longer one of those years.
"You want to go deep in the postseason, and to get kicked out early, it's not a fun feeling, and it's been a little bit too many times lately."
It's the second time in three years the Wings have exited the playoffs in the first round. They made it to round two last season, pushing eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago to overtime in Game 7 -- ironically enough, giving the Blackhawks more trouble than the Stanley Cup runner-up Bruins did.
Zetterberg spoke of how the Wings must examine themselves and "change the bad things for next year." He headlined one of the major bad things, though, and one that's hard to control: Health.
Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk each missed half a season because of injuries, and neither was at full strength in the playoffs. Had they been healthy, maybe the Wings would have finished better than a wild card. Had they been healthy, maybe the Wings would have been tougher. Their power play, for one, didn't click until Zetterberg appeared.
Zetterberg didn't play until the last two games of the series, pushing to return nine weeks after undergoing back surgery. He scored to make it 3-2 Saturday, building on the power-play goal Datsyuk had scored to make it 1-1. Loui Eriksson and Zdeno Chara converted on power plays for the Bruins, who got the game-winning goal from playoff pest Milan Lucic and an empty-net goal from Jarome Iginla.
Datsyuk led the Wings on one leg, scoring three goals while playing on a sore left knee that coach Mike Babcock said might require surgery.
The Bruins relied on their stars -- Lucic and Chara and goalie Tuukka Rask -- and their role players alike. The Wings spoke of sticking to structure as the series grew bleaker; the Bruins showed them how it's done.
"I think the biggest difference," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said, "was they were able to stick to their game plan for sixty minutes every game better than we did."
Veteran Daniel Alfredsson said, "If we lacked anything, it was our speed. We didn't use that as much as we would have liked. We kind of got stuck and didn't move the puck as well out of our own zone, and I think that was a big factor. They controlled the neutral zone more than we did and played better there."
Johan Franzen said he thought the Wings "were maybe half a size too small." But he is Detroit's biggest forward, and he had no more goals than the zeroes next to Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar. Bruins defenseman Torey Krug -- by no means a big guy -- had four assists in the series, two more than Franzen.
Babcock entered the series convinced the Wings would be what he called "a tough out." He exited recognizing the truth.
"We weren't a tough out at all," Babcock said. "We were good in Game 1, and I thought we were good for a period and a half in Game 4. I actually thought we were pretty good in here in Game 2, we got it back to 2-1, then we made a mistake.
"To find out how good they are, you've got to push them. We never did that. We never played up to our level."
The Wings define themselves by their playoffs. They've established they're going to be there, year after year, decade after decade. But getting in only to get out so quickly is not a story they want to extend any longer.
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