From Y to Z: Red Wings’ playoff streak was something

Published March 31, 2017

It began with a 25 year-old captain.

The underdog Red Wings were up on the heavily favored St. Louis Blues, 3-1, in a first round best-of-seven playoff series. It was the spring of 1991.

Stevie Yzerman was back in the playoffs, this time as a seasoned young veteran. His previous foray into spring hockey came as a young 21 year-old, rookie captain. The Red Wings shocked the hockey world with back-to-back conference finals appearances in 1987 and 1988.

A bitter first round loss occurred in 1989. The next year, the Red Wings missed the playoffs entirely.

But here were Yzerman and the Red Wings, on the verge of a remarkable upset of the Brett Hull-led Blues in 1991.

They say the fourth win of a playoff series is the hardest to get, especially for the team not favored.

It was true in 1991. So, so true.

The Blues got off the mat and won three straight from Detroit to advance.  Yzerman was just 25 but had already experienced six playoff failures. His quest for a championship was still looked at as a foolish one.

That’s when The Streak began.

Little did anyone know back in 1991 that the Red Wings would be annual participants in the NHL’s Stanley Cup tournament for the next 24 seasons. Certainly even Yzerman himself wouldn’t have dreamed of it.

What follows are random thoughts that come to mind to this hockey oldtimer, yours truly, culled from the memory banks.

My memories, though, go much further back than 1991. I’ve followed the Red Wings since 1970, but to give you a rundown of the slapstick hockey in Detroit for much of the 1970s and 1980s would be another column entirely.

So we’ll stick to the years between 1991-2016, seeing as how the Red Wings have officially been eliminated from playoff competition this spring.

1991

The Red Wings finished 29 points behind the Blues in the regular season. Their first round series was supposed to be short and sweet for the Blues.

But then the Red Wings jumped out to that 3-1 lead and fans in Detroit got giddy.

Alas, the fourth win never came.

The Blues showed the Wings who was boss, winning the final three games by an aggregate score of 12-3.

Bryan Murray, hired the prior summer as coach/GM, carried with him to Detroit the stigma of his Washington Capitals teams under performing in the playoffs.

It happened again.

1993

Murray was behind the bench again. It was the first round again.

The Red Wings made a daring deal in mid-season, acquiring future Hall of Fame defenseman Paul Coffey from the Kings.

Murray’s team managed 103 points and so had the home ice advantage over Toronto, who finished with 99 points.

But after winning the first two games in Detroit, the Wings saw the Leafs rattle off three straight wins, including in overtime in Game 5 in Detroit.

But the Red Wings demolished the Leafs, 7-3 in Toronto in Game 6.

Then, in overtime in Game 7, Nikolai Borschevsky happened.

Borschevsky was standing alone in front of Red Wings goalie Tim Cheveldae, and deflected home a shot by Bob Rouse from the blue line.

The Captain was at a loss.

“I really don’t know what to say right now,” Yzerman said softly, his voice shaken, to reporters in a silent Red Wings dressing room.

It was about to get much, much worse the following year.

1994

Murray, stripped of his coaching duties, was still the Red Wings GM. And in an attempt to upgrade the team in goal, Murray called the Winnipeg Jets and swapped goalie for goalie—Cheveldae for MSU alum Bob Essensa.

It was a colossal failure.

Essensa was awful for the Red Wings in the playoffs, despite a first round match with the third-year San Jose Sharks.

Essensa was so bad that coach Scotty Bowman went with 21 year-old rookie Chris Osgood for Game 7 of a series that the Red Wings were supposed to breeze through.

Osgood, late in a tied Game 7, made an iconic mistake, leaving his cage to try to clear the puck along the boards. Moments later, Jamie Baker fired the disc into the open net before Osgood could make it back in time.

If 1993 was bitter, 1994 was gut-wrenching, especially for the kid goalie Osgood, who spoke to reporters through tears afterward.

The Essensa trade was Bryan Murray’s desperate gamble that backfired. And it cost Murray his job.

1995

The left wing lock. The wink from the bench.

Those images are poison to Red Wings fans.

The New Jersey Devils came into existence in 1982, having been transplanted from Denver, where they were known as the Colorado Rockies. And for many years, the Devils were a league joke.

“They’re a Mickey Mouse organization,” Wayne Gretzky once said of the Devils.

But by 1995, the Devils had emerged as a league stalwart, and they met the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals—the first finals appearance by Detroit in 30 years.

The series lasted just four games. But it was the longest, most excruciating sweep in Red Wings fans’ history.

The Devils played that annoying, exasperating left wing lock, and stifled the Red Wings’ vaunted offense for much of the series.

New Jersey defenseman Scott Stevens plastered Detroit’s Slava Kozlov in Game 2 in Detroit, knocking Kozlov silly. The hit was devastating, yet clean.

Moments later, Stevens was caught by the TV cameras on the Devils bench, smirking and winking at the Wings bench. The message was clear: “Keep your head up, or you’re next.”

1996

Sixty-two wins. Thirteen losses. Seven ties.

The Red Wings set a new NHL record for league supremacy. They broke that of Bowman’s 1977 Canadiens team.

But in the playoffs, life was much harder for Detroit.

They went just 10-9. It took them 82 games to lose 13 in the regular season, and just 19 to lose nine in the playoffs.

The season ended in Game 6 of the conference finals in Denver. Claude Lemieux had destroyed Kris Draper into the boards earlier in the game, rearranging Draper’s face. The assault earned Lemieux an ejection.

But there was Lemieux on the ice afterward, celebrating with his Avalanche teammates.

Dino Ciccarelli minced no words in the Red Wings locker room after the series was over.

“I can’t believe I shook that bleep’s hand,” Dino said with disdain.

A new rivalry, maybe the best in NHL history, was born.

1997

Joey Kocur whispered into Brendan Shanahan’s ear.

“This is great, but the next one is even better,” Kocur told Shanny.

The brawling Kocur was playing in a beer league in December of 1996 when the Red Wings called him. In 1994, Kocur won a Cup with the New York Rangers.

Kocur got into shape and joined the Wings in January. As usual, Joey brought his fists and his tremendous strength to the party. I never saw Kocur lose a battle for the puck along the boards. Ever.

Shanahan scored the empty net goal that clinched the Western Conference finals over the hated Avalanche.

In the celebration on the ice at Joe Louis Arena, Kocur, with that ’94 Cup under his belt, whispered his words of wisdom to Shanahan about how a conference trophy compares to the Stanley Cup.

Four games later, the Wings ended their 42-year Cup drought.

Image result for red wings stanley cup 1997

The Red Wings’ first Cup since 1955 was something to behold for Yzerman and his fellow skating troops.

1998

The former Red Wings defenseman was wheeled onto the ice in Washington in his chair. A cigar was thrust into his hand.

About a year after the horrific limousine crash that ended the career and dramatically changed the life of Vladdy Konstantinov, no. 16 joined his teammates in their revelry. The Stanley Cup, won yet again, was placed onto his lap by captain Yzerman.

That’s all.

2002

The Red Wings roster was a treasure trove of elite NHL talent. Hall of Famers left and right. Guys like Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille signed on in the summer of 2001 with the expressed intent of winning the Stanley Cup. GM Ken Holland traded for superstar goalie Dominik Hasek before the season.

And of course, there was Yzerman and Shanahan and Lidstrom and the legendary Bowman behind the bench.

So what do the Red Wings do?

They lose the first two games of their first round series to the stinking Vancouver Canucks in Detroit.

In Game 3 in Vancouver, Lidstrom fired a shot from center ice. And it went in.

The series turned, like a worm.

The Wings survived the Canucks in six games, then went on to a Game 6 in the conference finals in Denver, trailing the Avalanche, 3-2.

The game was famous for goalie Patrick Roy’s Statue of Liberty move, which turned into a goal for Shanahan, which helped lift the Wings to a victory.

Game 7 in Detroit was a blowout for the Red Wings, and a couple weeks later, another Cup was won after five games against the Carolina Hurricanes.

An early playoff disaster was averted, big time.

2003

Curtis Joseph hungered for a Cup.

The brilliant goalie was nearing the end of a storied career when he inked a big contract with the Red Wings not long after Detroit’s 2002 Cup victory. Hasek had retired, leaving a huge void between the pipes.

Enter Joseph.

But in the first round of the 2003 playoffs, the Red Wings simply couldn’t muster any offense against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, who were coached by a guy named Mike Babcock.

The Red Wings found themselves down 3-0 in the series, and Game 4 in Anaheim went into overtime.

The Ducks won it, and Joseph collapsed to his knees in the crease, in disbelief. It wasn’t supposed to be like this when he signed with the Red Wings. A first round exit? A sweep? To the Ducks?

The Red Wings weren’t the only quacks against the Ducks, who advanced all the way to Game 7 of the Cup Finals before losing to New Jersey.

2008

I closed my laptop and stuck it back into its pouch. Dozens of fellow journalists stood up with me in the press box at Joe Louis Arena, prepared to venture to ice level to watch the Red Wings be presented with the Stanley Cup. I was covering the Finals games in Detroit for Bleacher Report.

The Red Wings led the finals series against Pittsburgh, 3-1, and led Game 5, 3-2, with less than a minute to play.

There were 34.3 seconds left on the clock when the Penguins’ Max Talbot jammed home a rebound past Chris Osgood, tying the game.

The Stanley Cup was put back into its case. The slew of writers and I sat back down and pulled our laptops back out, preparing for overtime.

How about three overtimes?

Veteran Petr Sykora ended the game and sent the series back to Pittsburgh.

It was a tired but determined group of Red Wings in the locker room after the game. I asked my share of “What happened?” questions then drove home, well past 1 a.m, wondering if I’d just witnessed the beginning of an epic collapse.

No fear—the Red Wings won the Cup in Pittsburgh less than 48 hours later.

But I didn’t get to see it happen in person.

2009

It’s a year after the disappointment of Game 5 in Detroit. The Wings and the Penguins are again meeting in the Cup Finals. Again I’m covering the games in Detroit, this time as an independent journalist.

And again I have a chance to see the Red Wings win the Cup on home ice.

And again it doesn’t happen.

The series is tied, 3-3 and the Red Wings and the Penguins are in a fierce battle on the ice. In the press box, the tension is palpable as well. Writers aren’t sure what angles to pursue.

Max Talbot, again, plays the role of villain in Detroit.

Talbot scores twice, and it’s enough to carry the Pens to a 2-1 win. The game ends with a flurry in front of Fleury—Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who is a brick wall while the Red Wings frantically fire the puck at the net in the final seconds.

But I do get to see the Stanley Cup paraded around the ice, even if it was by the wrong team.

I get sprayed with some champagne on the ice, and shove my voice recorder into the faces of Fleury, coach Dan Bielsma and owner Mario Lemieux. My friend Greg Shamus, a sports photographer working for the Penguins, does his thing nearby. Grizzled veteran forward Billy Guerin tells me that he’s just played his last game and will retire. A scoop.

Later, the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoffs MVP) sits on a card table in the Penguins dressing room. Its winner, Evgeny Malkin, sits a few feet away by himself, sipping some juice. It’s an oddly quiet, surreal, simple scene.

I sit down next to Malkin and we chat casually. The playoffs MVP with his trophy, and me. Only in hockey.

Again I drive home late at night, wondering “what if?” but still honored to have been personal witness to one of sport’s most hallowed traditions—the skating around the ice of the Stanley Cup by the winners.

2010-2016

I’m not including anything from these years because they were mostly anti-climactic and devoid of drama, save for 2013, when the Red Wings jumped out to a 3-1 conference semi-finals lead over the Chicago Blackhawks before capitulating, losing Game 7 in Chicago in overtime.

Most of 2010-2016 was spent making the playoffs for playoffs sake. Usually the Red Wings were drummed out in the first round.

The 25-year playoff streak started with a 25 year-old captain. It ends with Joe Louis Arena itself, which shutters its doors soon.

Before and between the four Cups won between 1997 and 2008, there was drama, heartbreak, emotional roller coasters and pulsating moments on the ice. The Red Wings won a ton of playoff series, but also lost a lot of them as well, many times as favorites.

There were some long summers but also ones filled with celebration until the next training camp.

In 2010, Shanahan told me about life as a hockey player during the playoffs.

“You close yourself off to all other things,” he said. “Eating wasn’t enjoying food—it was just adding more fuel to your body. Sleeping wasn’t rest, it was something you needed. Everything was done for the next game. You sequestered yourself in the hotel with your teammates and you got blinders on.”

Throughout the streak, there were Hall of Famers on the ice and behind the bench. The parade of hockey stars that passed through Detroit is mind boggling.

It was a grand time.

Weiss is out of mulligans with Red Wings

The word “bust” has two distinct meanings in the world of professional sports.

It could represent the highest of honors—a bronze sculpture of the head of a football player enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Canton, OH, for example. If a championship ring is the ultimate goal, a bronze bust with your likeness in the HOF certainly is not far behind.

Bust also has an ugly, embarrassing meaning.

A bust could also be a draft choice or a free agent signee who fell far below expectations and thus etched a much smaller career than what was planned.

Stephen Weiss never played pro football, so which meaning of “bust” does that leave him?

It may be too early to saddle the Red Wings’ Weiss with that albatross of a word, but it’s getting there.

Weiss, the center signed by Detroit in the summer of 2013 to the tune of five years and $24.5 million, has done little to justify the Red Wings’ investment.

An injury-plagued 2013-14 season robbed Weiss and the Red Wings of what was expected to be a productive year from a no. 2 center.

An injury should never brand someone a bust. I’ve always argued that. So you give Weiss a mulligan for last season, in which he played in just 26 games and had a measly two goals and two assists.

But in 2014-15, Weiss suited up for twice as many games (52) yet chipped in just nine goals and 16 assists. He was a minus-2, if you believe in that stat.

In March, Weiss was benched briefly by coach Mike Babcock for some silly turnovers. Babcock doesn’t suffer foolish play easily. Just ask Brendan Smith.

But when the playoffs started last week in Tampa, Weiss was in the lineup.

You’d like to say that Weiss was in because of his age (32) and playoff experience—except that Weiss played most of his career in Florida for the Panthers, and thus he only had seven NHL playoff games on his 14-year resume heading into the post-season.

But he still is 32 and has played in the league for a long time, and in the playoffs you can never have too much experience, albeit almost entirely gathered in the regular season.

Two games into this first round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Stephen Weiss may as well not have been in the lineup, after all.

Weiss hasn’t made one iota of impact. His stat line has basically consisted of his name and TOI (time on ice) followed by a gaggle of zeroes.

This time, there is no injury (that we know of) to blame.

Whether Weiss will be in the lineup for the pivotal Game 3 in Detroit on Tuesday is anyone’s guess—maybe even including Babcock, who surely must be at least mulling over a change when it comes to Weiss.

Weiss started strong last November when he came back from his hernia surgery, popping in a couple of goals in his first game. But soon he went back to being invisible and pretty much useless.

The benching in March wasn’t entirely unexpected, though a tad surprising.

The playoffs in the NHL has always been a time for everything and everyone to reset.

The regular season is like an Etch-a-Sketch. The playoffs are what happens after that Etch-a-Sketch gets shaken and cleared.

It’s a clean slate for everyone, and for every team. Seeding matters little, unlike in the NBA, where only a handful of teams truly have a shot at the championship.

Weiss, like every player on the roster, got to hit the reset button last week.

But you can’t do it anymore, not two games into the first round. There is no time for mulligans.

But the beauty of playoff hockey is that Stephen Weiss could still be an impact player for the Red Wings. He could still score some timely goals and make some of those signature passes that were his hallmark in Florida.

He’d better do it soon. If he even gets another chance.

Lightning-Red Wings playoff matchup inevitable for Stevie Y

Steve Yzerman didn’t celebrate a lot of birthdays at home with family when he played for the Red Wings.

More likely, Yzerman was in a hotel room or at the rink for a morning skate. Or he was in a plane, jetting his way to the West Coast. And if he was in Detroit proper, he was likely at Joe Louis Arena, lacing up his skates for a game that evening.

Yzerman, the iconic Red Wings captain of days gone by, was born on May 9. For too many NHL players, a birthday in May would almost assure the man of the hour a cake with candles and the wife and kids.

But for Yzerman, May was still hockey time. His Red Wings were usually still in the mix, still alive in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

And birthdays were way down on the priority list.

It was Yzerman’s teammate and winner of three Cups in Detroit, Brendan Shanahan, who explained to me the mindset of a player pursuing the Cup.

We sat in an office inside the Trenton Ice Arena, in April 2010. Shanny was in town for a promotional hockey game between the alumni of two high schools.

I asked him what spring hockey, post-season hockey, was like for a player.

“You close yourself off to all other things,” he said. “Eating wasn’t enjoying food—it was just adding more fuel to your body. Sleeping wasn’t rest, it was something you needed. Everything was done for the next game. You sequestered yourself in the hotel with your teammates and you got blinders on.”

But the ultimate payoff made it all worth it. Shanahan experienced it thrice, in 1997, 1998 and 2002.

“That’s what I liked most about it. When the final horn sounded and you were the winner and the season was over, that’s when you sort of pulled the blinders off and really took a look around you. You were on a mission. You were focused entirely on winning, and that was a lot of fun.”

Yzerman won three Cups with Shanny. And Stevie Y was a member of the Red Wings’ front office for a fourth Cup, in 2008.

Yzerman is closing in on 50 years old now, proof that time truly does not stop for any man.

Chances are, on May 9 this year, when no. 50 hits, Yzerman won’t be at home with wife Lisa and his three daughters.

Chances are, Yzerman’s current team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, of which he’s the general manager, will still be rolling along in the Stanley Cup playoffs. That will have meant that the Lightning would have disposed of Yzerman’s old team in the Eastern Conference’s first round, which is expected to happen.

It will mean another birthday put on hold, shoved to the background. Even one as significant as his 50th.

For many a May, Yzerman’s suit was a blood red sweater with the “C” on it, and skates. These days in May, Yzerman wears Armani and wing-tipped shoes. But the goal is the same.

It’s hard to believe, but Yzerman was named Tampa Bay’s GM nearly five years ago.

When he was rumored to be in the Lightning’s cross-hairs for the job—a time when Tampa Bay hockey left a lot to be desired—I wrote that even though the job and the franchise were beneath him, that Yzerman should take it. Sometimes that’s what you have to do when you want to do something in the worst way.

The Lightning qualified for that back in 2010. They were one of the NHL’s worst teams, and organizations. If you don’t believe me, just remember that the Lightning actually plucked Barry Melrose from the TV studio and put him back behind the bench, with disastrous results.

The Melrose debacle was still fresh on the minds of hockey people when the Lightning pursued Yzerman, who badly wanted to run his own team after serving his apprenticeship under Ken Holland, Jimmy Devellano, Jim Nill et al.

It wasn’t going to happen in Detroit, and Yzerman knew it. Everyone around hockey knew it.

The Minnesota Wild had made a run at Yzerman during the 2009-10 season, but Stevie Y turned them down, for whatever reason.

But when Tampa called, Yzerman was all ears.

The Lightning franchise was a mess, and it didn’t look like a very good GM job, but as I wrote, Yzerman was wise to accept it. That way, I surmised, Yzerman could learn the ropes with a franchise from which little was expected.

Ha!

Yzerman, using whatever deftness he learned from Holland and company, turned the Lighting around in one year.

Tampa Bay didn’t even qualify for the playoffs in 2010, but one year later, with Yzerman pushing the buttons and pulling the gears, the Lightning were in the Eastern Conference Finals.

And Yzerman, as a rookie GM, was named the NHL’s General Manager of the Year.

Yzerman was a rookie in 1983, as well—an 18-year-old dressing next to the likes of Brad Park and Danny Gare in the Red Wings locker room.

Yzerman was as quiet as a mouse. After a game that season, I asked him some questions and even if the room had been deserted, I would have had a hard time hearing his answers.

Yzerman is still quiet, relatively so. And he quietly has built the Lightning into one of the NHL’s best teams.

He’ll look down from the press box during this upcoming first round, as his team likely skates circles around the Red Wings, and one can only imagine the emotions coursing through him.

This playoff series is the only time that Yzerman, a Red Wing forever, won’t be a fan of the Winged Wheel in the post-season. It will be the only time that he roots against the boys in the blood red sweaters.

Yzerman hired a coach, Jon Cooper, who is (again, quietly) doing a whale of a job behind the Lightning bench. Cooper is in his second season with the Lightning and in both of them, the team topped 100 points and finished second in the Atlantic Division.

For all of his early success as an NHL general manager, Yzerman is also a winner in Armani at the Olympics.

He put together the 2010 and 2014 Gold Medal winning teams, as Team Canada’s Executive Director. The British Columbia native is revered in his home country.

You figured that once the Red Wings moved to the Eastern Conference in 2013, it was only a matter of time before Current GM Yzerman would go up against Former Player Yzerman in the playoffs.

The Lightning sign his checks, but the Red Wings logo will forever be branded on Yzerman’s huge, competitive heart.

But starting on Thursday, it’s all business. There won’t be time or room for sentimentality. There are 16 teams vying for the Stanley Cup and its pursuit every spring is cutthroat and its competitors would just as soon knock their own mothers off the puck. And maybe give her an elbow when the referees are looking the other way.

Chances are, Yzerman’s Lightning will oust the Red Wings in a series that will be lucky to go six games.

Or, the Red Wings could pull off an upset. Yzerman knows what that feels like, too—from the losing end. As Red Wings team captain, it was up to Yzerman to explain away yet another playoff disappointment, when the sweat was still running down his body and his skates still on.

Those unexpected playoff ousters made the three Cups won as a player all the more sweet.

Starting Thursday, the Red Wings will lose at least one fan. But if the Red Wings somehow manage to upend the Lightning, you can bet that Stevie Y will be pulling for that Winged Wheel the rest of the way.

Even if it means peeking at the TV during his 50th birthday celebration.

Round 1, Game 1 Enotes

According to the rules, there is no skills competition in the post-season. Yet for the Red Wings in Game 1 of their playoff series against the Boston Bruins, a skills competition broke out with three minutes to play in the third period.

Maybe you’ll see a better stick move at center ice than what you saw with Pavel Datsyuk tonight, which resulted in the only goal of a 1-0 Red Wings victory.

Maybe you’ll see a better one, yes sir. Maybe you’ll see a hamster driving a car and pork chops fall from the sky, too.

Datsyuk’s ridiculous behind-the-back drag of the puck to himself at center ice, sliding the disc between his own legs, led to a wrist shot that beat Bruins goalie Tuuka Rask from just beyond the face-off circle. The mind-numbing play came with 3:01 left in the third period and the Red Wings lead the series, 1-0.

Even Datsyuk had never made a move like he did tonight, that I ever recall. It would be inconceivable to think that we’d have seen it before and forgotten it.

It’s already the play of the 2014 playoffs. Datsyuk sewed it up. We’re one game into round one and you won’t see a better hockey play between now and June.

It was as if Datsyuk, skating full bore through the neutral zone, suddenly remembered that he didn’t have the puck. So he did something about it.

I swear Datsyuk’s stick grew about six inches in length as he reached behind him and used the stick’s blade to scoop the puck and slide it between his legs in time for him to stick handle into the Boston zone. Then it was a matter of allowing traffic to clear as no. 13 drifted to his left, ever patient, and wristed a shot that eluded the masterful goalie Rask, who may have been surprised that Datsyuk had the puck to begin with.

Next came the longest three minutes of the Red Wings season thus far.

Boston pulled Rask with about 1:20 left, but never got a serious scoring chance.

The Bruins’ best chance at a goal occurred moments before Datsyuk’s brilliance, when a deflection at the goal mouth was rejected by Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard.

BOX SCORE

Lost in the shadow of Datsyuk’s magical play was the fact that the Red Wings played the perfect road game for a no. 8 playoff seed in Game 1. They were hard on the puck, didn’t commit many turnovers and didn’t have to kill too many penalties.

It is just one game of what promises to be a six or seven-game series. And Boston is likely going to win a game in Detroit. But as far as giving credence to the notion that the Red Wings will be, as coach Mike Babcock said this week, a “tough out,” this game did that.

When you see what Datsyuk did tonight, it is even more amazing that the Red Wings managed to slip into the playoffs minus Datsyuk since the Olympic break, essentially.

Advantage, Detroit. Game 2 is Sunday.

BOTTOM LINE: Whether the Red Wings survive this series or not, Datsyuk provided the fans with an unforgettable playoff moment.

THE WINGED WHEELER SAYS: This was no flukey victory, despite the fact that it took a super-human play to score the winning goal. Had the Red Wings lost in overtime it would have been crushing. But now, the Bruins have to bring their A-Game on Sunday. The Red Wings showed that they are no. 8 seed in name only. The almost nightly grind to make the playoffs since the Olympics paid off in a big way in Game 1, as the Red Wings brought the same urgency that carried over from the final quarter of the regular season.

Red Wings in the Playoffs? So What Else is New?

So the Red Wings made the playoffs this year. So what?

Isn’t that what they do every year?

It’s spring, and the Red Wings will be playing hockey while the Tigers play baseball. What’s the big deal?

The Red Wings are in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and I may as well have just told you that caffeine is in coffee and GM is in trouble.

The Red Wings are the longest-running post-season show going in professional sports. They are “The Mousetrap” of hockey.

The Red Wings have been doing this playoff thing for 23 seasons in a row. They are the team that has its table by the window, reserved, while other post-season patrons have come and gone.

For all we know, the NHL might not even hold the playoffs if the Red Wings aren’t there to participate in them.

Our daughter turns 21 on Monday and her parents hadn’t even met the last time Detroit didn’t have an entry in the Stanley Cup tournament. And now here is our daughter, who is going to be old enough to legally tip a drink to celebrate the first playoff puck drop next week.

The Red Wings’ 23-year run in the playoffs has outlasted marriages and even the second marriages of those divorced in between. It’s seen four presidents, gobs of Congressmen and dozens of political scandals. It started when Dennis Rodman was normal.

So this is what they do, these Red Wings. They play hockey when the lawn mowers are whirring, the grills are smoking and the trees are blossoming. We start watching them with sweats and fuzzy slippers on and by the time they’re through, we’ve switched to shorts and flip-flops.

The Red Wings are in the playoffs. So what else is new?

Well, there’s this. The Red Wings made their playoff push down the stretch without anyone named Zetterberg and, mostly, without anyone named Datsyuk.

The Red Wings are in the playoffs with a cache of rookies, a few reliable vets and an old man who spent 17 years somewhere else. It seems like everyone on the roster is either 22 or 40.

There’s Tomas Jurco and Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan and Gustav Nyquist, which isn’t exactly a Who’s Who of Red Wings lore. Heck, they’re really not even a Who’s Who of last year’s Red Wings.

There’s the old man, Daniel Alfredsson, who is 41 years old and without a Stanley Cup—hockey’s Ernie Banks, though Alfredsson, at least, has seen his share of playoff hockey (16  of his 18 NHL years, to be precise).

But once the puck drops next week to kick off the team’s annual kick at the can, it will only matter that the boys in the blood red sweaters with the winged wheel on their chest are present and accounted for. It won’t matter what the names are on the back of the jerseys.

These are the Red Wings. They have a mystique, like the Raiders had in the NFL or the Yankees have in MLB or the Celtics have in the NBA—all teams whose uniforms never change, nor their marketability.

Don’t for a moment think that the NHL isn’t happy to have the Red Wings along for yet another post-season ride. Hockey fans may tire of seeing Detroit as a playoff team, but the league never will.

The Red Wings are money. Their North American-wide fan base travels well with them, and that will probably be even more so now that the Red Wings are in the Eastern Conference and won’t be starting any playoff series more than 700 miles away from Detroit.

This will be old school playoff hockey, even if the Red Wings may not even face an Original Six team in any round. It’s old school because this will be like hockey in the old days, when there wasn’t a team west of Chicago and all the traveling was done by train.

The Red Wings won’t be taking any trains to Pittsburgh or Boston—their two possible first round opponents—but neither will any playoff game start after 7:30 p.m. No more cross country treks to Los Angeles or San Jose or Anaheim.

Over the past 23 seasons, the Stanley Cup playoff formats have changed, the divisions have changed names and teams, the Red Wings have even switched conferences, have played for four different coaches and through it all, one thing has remained constant.

Springtime hockey in the Motor City.

The Red Wings have accomplished this 23-year post-season streak in a time unlike the Original Six days, when 67% of the teams made the playoffs just by showing up each night. In fact, unless you were the Rangers or the Bruins, you were in the playoffs in the 1950s and much of the ‘60s.

This current streak has been kept alive in a time where just 16 of 30 teams qualify, or barely 53% of the league.

Look at three of the four teams the Red Wings defeated in the Finals in their Stanley Cup championships starting in 1997.

The Philadelphia Flyers, the ’97 victims, barely made the playoffs in 1998 and were dismissed in five games in the first round.

The Washington Capitals, who lost to the Red Wings in the ’98 Finals, finished 14 games below .500 the next year and out of the playoffs.

The Carolina Hurricanes, the 2002 Finals participants, nosedived to 21 games below .500 and were the worst team in the Eastern Conference in 2002-03.

Only the 2009 Penguins, who lost to the Red Wings in the ’08 Finals, rebounded—and they won the Cup.

So it’s not like making it all the way to the Cup Finals guarantees success, even just one year hence.

But the Red Wings have suffered Finals losses, first-round knockouts, Conference Finals disappointments and have won four Cups during this 23-year streak—yet no playoff result of the previous spring has managed to have anything to do with keeping Detroit out of the post-season party the following season.

The Red Wings are in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Again.

And where is Dennis Rodman these days?