For an athlete, there are few things worse than losing.
Not getting a chance to compete at all, that's one.
Realizing you and you alone cost your team the game, that's another one.
But, the worst thing for an athlete, beyond losing, is realizing you and your team beat yourselves by being unprepared, unfocused, and uninspired.
With an insurmountable 0-3 deficit in front of them (that's right, it is insurmountable) courtesy of the San Jose Sharks, the Red Wings will take no comfort in the fact that they largely have themselves to blame for their fate.
Now, I'm not saying the officiating in this series hasn't been atrocious, it has, and I'm not suggesting the Sharks are a mediocre team, they most certainly are not.
But, looking at the three games and three straight 4-3 losses, the Red Wings have only themselves to blame for their earlier-than-expected playoff exit.
Please, don't bother with the "it's not over 'til it's over" or "we aren't dead yet" sentiments...this series is over.
The question is, why?
Why did the Red Wings fall so easily to a Sharks team that is peerless in talent but beatable nonetheless?
Ultimately, the unsatisfying but most accurate answer is, we'll never really know.
We'll never know why the centers suddenly forgot how to win face-offs.
We'll never know why the Wings decided to help the refs out by sprinkling in some very real and very stupid penalties in among the phantom ones.
We'll never know why the Red Wings seemingly took their opponent for granted by playing passive, at times lazy hockey instead of punishing the Sharks with their speed, grit and offense.
We'll never know why Jimmy Howard decided that four goals per game was an acceptable average to maintain.
We may never know why all of these things happened, but the fact that they did happen explains why Detroit will be without playoff hockey next week.
We saw hints of these things throughout their first-round series with Phoenix.
Luckily, the Wings managed to play well enough to get to a seventh game and then flipped the proverbial switch to dominate the Coyotes from start to finish and close out the series.
The problem with that is, someone apparently shut the switch on their way out of Phoenix and, as a result, the Wings have been in the dark ever since.
You can break down the numbers, the penalties and trends all you want.
However, when you step back and look at this series with perspective, the simple and most important fact to consider is that, through three games, one team has given the other the chance to win.
The Sharks are much like the creature itself: powerful, fast, aggressive and lethal.
Sharks are to be taken lightly at one's own peril, however, for the prepared, an encounter with a shark doesn't have to end in a pool of blood.
Nevertheless, with the Red Wings playing the part of the unsuspecting and unprepared swimmer, they find themselves floating limply in the water, missing an arm and two legs and clinging to the ounce of life the Sharks have left them until they decide to close in and deliver the coup de grace.
The tragic part is that this could have been avoided.
Again, you can break down the stats and talk percentages, but, the plain truth of the matter is the Wings began this series disorganized and unfocused and have proceeded through it in similar fashion.
Honestly, with the exception of games three and seven, this is largely how the Wings went through their series with Phoenix.
The fact that they emerged victorious from that encounter may have given them the false impression that they can do the same against the Sharks; clearly, this is not the case.
Don't misunderstand me here: the Sharks were the better team in all three tilts and deserve to be where they are.
However, they have yet to face an engaged, focused, and determined hockey team in this series, as the Wings haven't even come close to resembling such a thing.
Winning against such opposition is satisfying to be sure, but a bit unimpressive nonetheless.
Look, as of a few months ago, no one, including this fan, thought the Wings would be in the playoffs at all, so, the fact that they got in and won a round given the season they had isn't something to hang yourself over.
Still, to see this team lose this series, largely because they've done things like allow three goals in less than two minutes in game one, or took a stupid penalty that lead to a back-breaking 5-on-3 goal against in game two, or coughed up a 3-1 lead on home ice in game three, is more disappointing than losing is alone.
If they had to lose, it would have been nice to see it come in seven games with the six preceding it being hard-fought, back and forth, blood and gut wrenching affairs.
As it stands, the Wings appeared to have jumped in the water unprepared and did a few backstrokes before the Sharks came in and ripped them apart.
Tragic as such a death might be, one has only oneself to blame for this demise.