Twenty consecutive seasons in the playoffs is amazing enough. Factor in that the Detroit Red Wings have advanced past the first round in all but six occasions during that stretch is arguably even more impressive.
The first year they advanced during this long stretch (1992), the Wings had this rookie named Nicklas Lidstrom on defense. He was on the ice for 18 minutes, three seconds for Monday’s 4-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 3 of the first-round series as Detroit moved closer to a sweep.
Was this the same team that dropped five of seven to finish off the regular season? In Hockey Town where Tomas Holmstrom is virtually immovable in front of the opponent’s net, Pavel Datsyuk remains one of the best two-way forwards in hockey and Lidstrom provides stability on the blue line, this kind of postseason surge shouldn’t be a surprise anymore.
But the early part of the Wings’ playoff streak wasn’t always pretty. The Red Wings were knocked off in the first round in three of the first seasons of their current run, including in 1994. The Red Wings won the Western Conference -- the first season since the switch from the Wales and Campbell conference alignment -- only to lose to the San Jose Sharks in the expansion team’s third season of existence in seven games.
The Red Wings broke through with their first Stanley Cup of this streak in 1997 and added Cups in 1998, 2002 and 2008. They’re the last club to repeat as champs, and, with the Chicago Blackhawks down 3-0 to the Vancouver Canucks, that feat will likely remain intact for at least another year.
Ken Holland has been the team’s GM for the last three titles and Ilitch family has provided a stable ownership for nearly three decades now. It’s the kind of stability that is rare these days and stands in stark contrast to the team they faced in the first round of the postseason for two seasons: the Phoenix Coyotes. A Red Wings victory in Game 4 on Wednesday could be the last in Glendale, Ariz, for the rudderless club as a move back to Canada appears could be on the horizon.
Along with Lidstrom, Chris Osgood (out for the season after hernia surgery) and Kris Draper are among the other Wings veterans from those Cup-winning years. Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski writes that they are pretty far into their careers, but may not quite be done:
Some might call the Wings old. It's probably wiser to call them wise, not that they really mind the labels. The Wings are big on creating attachments, composed veterans mentoring youngsters, and it's why people wait their turn. It's also why few players ever want to leave, and why Draper, 39, and Osgood, 38, would love to stay.
I think there's great value in good teammates like this, measured in places you can't see. Both of their contracts are up, and no one is looking that far ahead yet, not when there's so much to see right now.
"When I'm on the ice in practice, I got a smile on my face, and I try to be one of the last guys out there," Draper said. "I feel great. I'm loving what I'm doing, and I just want to keep doing it as long as I can."
-- A.J. Perez
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