The Detroit Red Wings have officially clinched a playoff berth for the 25th consecutive season. It is the longest active streak in North American professional sports and keeps their hopes of one day setting a new NHL record alive.
The Red Wings got in despite a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers in their final game of the season Saturday. They can thank the Ottawa Senators for absolutely rolling over the Boston Bruins in a 6-1 win, preventing the B’s from getting the points necessary to surpass the Red Wings to stay in third place in the Atlantic Division. Detroit gets in thanks to their 39 non-shootout wins to Boston’s 38 as the tiebreaker.
It’s actually the Bruins organization that still owns the record for longest postseason streak as Boston went to the playoffs 29 straight seasons between 1967-68 and 1995-96. All the modern-day Bruins had to do to put Detroit’s streak further in jeopardy was pick up a single point, but the Senators played spoiler.
The Red Wings were pretty appreciative of the little boost from Ottawa:
Now Boston has to hope the Flyers falter in their last two games of the season to get in.
Detroit is now tied with the St. Louis Blues for the third longest playoff streak in NHL history. The Blues also had a 25-season streak of reaching the playoffs from 1979-80 to 2003-04, while the Chicago Blackhawks had a 28-season streak from 1969-70 to 1996-97 for the second-longest all-time. The next closest active streak in the NHL belongs to the Pittsburgh Penguins who, including this year, have reached the postseason in each of the last 10 years.
To put Detroit’s run in further context, the longest postseason streak in NBA history is 22 games (Philadelphia 76ers), the longest in MLB is 14 years (Atlanta Braves) and the NFL record is nine years (Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts). Granted, the NHL has 16 teams reach the playoffs every year now which makes it easier to get in than some of the other sports mentioned, but considering that they’ve continued their run into the salary cap era is especially impressive.
The Red Wings used to be one of the teams that could load up on star players, but under the cap, they’ve had to adapt and it’s getting tougher and tougher each year to hang onto the streak. The Red Wings have not finished higher than third in their division in any of the last five years, but they’re still finding a way to make the postseason.
This year, they kind of backed into the playoffs. Carrying a minus-13 goal differential, the 93 points the Red Wings acquired to get into the playoffs this year ties the second lowest end-of-season total during the streak over a full season. The first year of the streak, 1990-91, Detroit got into the playoffs with 76 points in an 80-game season, marking the only year they had lower than this year’s 93 points for a playoff berth.
No matter the method, the Red Wings can say they've been in the playoffs for the last quarter century and no one else in the NHL will be able to say the same for a long, long time.
Next year, with it being the final season of Joe Louis Arena, the pressure will be right back on them to extend the streak. Before they get to that point, though, they have a big series to prepare for.
The Red Wings will start the first round on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the same club they met at that stage of the postseason last year. That series ended with the Lightning winning in seven games. This time around, however, Tampa Bay has multiple key injuries, none bigger than those to Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman, leaving them depleted before the postseason. So not only do the Red Wings get in, they get a matchup that gives them a better chance to advance, if they can take advantage of the hobbled Lightning, that is.