The first playoff experience for the Columbus Blue Jackets was quick and often cruel, with the Detroit Red Wings completing a four-game sweep on Thursday in a 6-5 victory.
Johan Franzen broke a tie on a rebound goal with 47 seconds left in the third period at Nationwide Arena, a power-play marker that came after Columbus took a penalty for too many men on the ice.
"By the rulebook, it's probably the right call. By the circumstances of the game, I didn't like the call," said Hitchcock, who said the third period had been loosely called to that point.
It spoiled a plucky effort by the Blue Jackets, who twice battled back from two-goal deficits in the game.
"We were great. Our fans were great tonight," Nash said. "That was our best game by far. We proved to ourselves, we proved to the whole city, that we can keep up with them."
The Red Wings became the first defending Stanley Cup champion to reach the second round of the post-season in six years. Detroit has made it to the second stage 10 times in the last 14 years.
"We had a hard time putting them away," Franzen said. "This was their first playoff, so they wanted to play hard for the crowd."
Should Anaheim retain its series lead over the San Jose Sharks, the Red Wings will next face the Ducks.
If San Jose comes back in that series, Detroit takes on Vancouver.
Columbus made the playoffs for the first time in its eight seasons in the NHL, but the series was the equivalent of pushing a boulder uphill.
The Blue Jackets never led any of the four games in the Western Conference quarter-final and were only on even terms for about 65 of the 240 minutes of play.
In the end, they gave the potent Wings way too many opportunities. Detroit scored twice on the power play on Thursday to bring their series total with the man advantage to six, with another goal coming soon after a Columbus penalty had lapsed.
Hossa scored twice for the winners, with Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom each contributing a goal and assist. Daniel Cleary added his second of the playoffs.
Detroit's Chris Osgood allowed five goals on the first 16 shots he faced but set aside all 11 in the final period.
Rick Nash, Kristian Huselius and Kris Russell each had a goal and an assist for Columbus, with R.J. Umberger and Fredrik Modin also scoring.
Goalie Steve Mason was outstanding in the third period for the Jackets, making 14 of his 35 saves in the final frame as the game stayed tied until the late winner.
As with many of Detroit's 18 goals during the series, Mason had to contend with heavy traffic on the Franzen score.
Pinball goal opens the scoring
As in the previous three games, Detroit drew first blood. Lidstrom got credit for a goal when his slapshot went off Mason's pad and Columbus defenceman Fedor Tyutin just under three minutes into the game.
"We had the game in a good situation there, but we made some mistakes," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "Give them credit, they played with a lot of heart. And their fans were fantastic."
The early tally didn't deflate Columbus as it seemed to in Game 3, with Huselius skating down the right wing to beat Osgood to the short side with a snapshot just over three minutes later.
The Blue Jackets again made a critical mistake to fall behind 57 seconds later. Defenceman Rostislav Klesa knocked Holmstrom into Mason, upsetting the goalie's rhythm and putting the Wings forward on the doorstep for a rebound putaway of a Brad Stuart shot.
Cleary scored Detroit's sixth power-play goal of the series, taking a puck off the back boards and banking it off Mason at 10:02 of the first, and it appeared the Red Wings would romp.
Columbus had a near-miss in the final seconds of the period, with Mike Commodore's shot going off Osgood's blocker and just over the crossbar.
Nash gave the home side life early in the second with his first career NHL playoff goal, as he took a shot that was heading wide and redirected it past Osgood.
Umberger scored his third goal of the series to tie the game, weaving through the Detroit defence and beating Osgood with a low backhand shot. Goalie Mason drew an assist on the play.
This time, the tie score lasted a long time — if you consider 81 seconds long.
The Red Wings had multiple whacks during a sustained bout of pressure, with Hossa lifting a rebound home.
Mason was facing constant screens, and did very well to get a piece of Jiri Hudler's bid for a two-goal lead.
Then Nash took a critical penalty after driving Brian Rafalski into the Detroit net, and Hossa made the Jackets pay with his second of the game.
Osgood wasn't having the best night, but at that juncture he made key saves on Nash and Antoine Vermette.
He was beaten, though, by Russell on a shot from the left circle at 15:45 of the second. The Blue Jackets defenceman capitalized on a rare Detroit mistake, using his teammate as a decoy on a two-on-one.
Modin took a rebound on a hop just over two minutes later and whacked a backhand past Osgood, who appeared to be battling a lower-body injury. Replays showed the goalie grimacing after a number of saves in the second.
He returned for the third, but it was Mason who stole the show as Detroit took seven of the first eight shots in the period.
Franzen scored on a rebound after Jiri Hudler skated along the goal line and had his shot blocked by Mason.
"It was a good move by Huds," Babcock said. "Anytime the pressures on at the end of a game, all you've got to do is take it to the net. That's what he did."
Stuart and Niklas Kronwall each finished with two assists for the Red Wings.