(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - The loss was widely described as a hangover, and the Detroit Red Wings plan a weekend cure.
Numerous good chances went nowhere Friday as the Wings hosted the Carolina Hurricanes at Joe Louis Arena, thwarted by Cam Ward to hand Detroit a 2-1 loss two days after they'd clinched a 23rd straight playoff berth. The Wings banged 29 shots on net, but failed to score even when staring at wide open nets, and went through one power play that was flat-out farcical.
"Looked like a little hangover from making the playoffs," Johan Franzen said. "That's what it was. We had enough chances to win, but we didn't really do all the small things right, like we've been doing to win all the games."
The Wings remain in the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Columbus also lost to stay at 91 points, but the Blue Jackets have the tiebreaker by virtue of more regulation or overtime wins. The Wings can do no better than a wild-card spot, which will pit them opposite either Boston or Pittsburgh in the first round.
There's strong belief within the locker room that the Wings are capable of doing damage in the playoffs, Friday's performance notwithstanding. Coach Mike Babcock didn't like it, but tried to find an upside.
"We weren't good enough," he said. "We had tons of chances, our goaltender was good, but we didn't play right. And when you don't play hard enough, you don't play right, and you don't win.
"I was disappointed in the fact we didn't stick to what we've got to do to have success, but it's a good reminder for us, too."
Riley Sheahan had Detroit's only goal, halving the score early in the third period.
The Hurricanes grabbed a lead on their first power play - granted when the Wings were caught with two many men on the ice - with Elias Lindholm corralling a puck off the end boards and sending it glove-side on Jimmy Howard into the far corner. It's the third power play goal the Wings have given up in the last two games.
Carolina doubled up on a rebound goal with a minute to spare in the first period, with Jiri Tlusty finding the back of the net after Howard stopped Eric Staal. The Wings avoided a three-goal deficit when Jakub Kindl batted Staal's shot out of the air before it could land in Detroit's net during the second period.
The Wings got a power play at 6:21 of the second period, and demonstrated how to masterly control the puck the entire time, without making the goaltender work. The first unit passed the puck around a dozen times - and then watched it slip across the blue line, forcing everyone to leave and set up again.
"We had a lot of chances," Franzen said, "but that last pass didn't really work out."
Sheahan scored on the Wings' next power play. Tomas Jurco ripped a shot on net, where Sheahan was stationed. He hustled for the puck and knocked it past Ward, setting off a third period that saw the Wings outshoot the Hurricanes, 9-4. Ten minutes passed before Howard made his first save of the period.
The game was a blemish on what has otherwise been a stellar stretch for the Wings. "Hopefully," Franzen said, "we can get ourselves back together here and start playing the way we want."
That opportunity comes with a Sunday matinee at St. Louis, in the last game before the playoffs.