For the first time in 25 years, the Stanley Cup Playoffs will not include the Detroit Red Wings. The team lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in regulation, and coupled with both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins winning their games, have been mathematically eliminated from contention in 2017.
It’s official: For the first time since 1989-90, the Detroit Red Wings have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The streak has ended at 25.
Detroit Red Wings Eliminated, 25-Year Playoff Streak Comes to End
This night culminates a quarter-century run that was one to behold. It was the longest active playoff streak in professional sport and tied for third-longest in NHL history, for starters. From 1991-2016, the Red Wings won six conference championships, six Presidents’ Trophies, 14 Division Championships, and, of course, four Stanley Cups. The four Cups were won in an 11-year span from 1997-2008, including three of them in six years. 17 of those seasons saw 100+ point seasons including 12 consecutive years from 1999-2012. The 1130 regular season and 167 playoff victories each topped the league during the run, and by point total, the team had the two best seasons of any team during the span in 1995-96 (131) and 2005-06 (124).
Some of the best players to ever play for the franchise and, for that matter, hockey history highlighted Detroit’s stars during the run. These names included Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Chris Chelios, Dino Ciccarelli, Paul Coffey, Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa, Brett Hull, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Igor Larionov, Nicklas Lidstrom, Dominik Hasek, Mike Modano, Larry Murphy, John Ogrodnick, Brad Richards, Brian Rafalski, Luc Robitaille, Brendan Shanahan, Pat Verbeek, and Henrik Zetterberg. Of those, 12 are in the Hall of Fame with likely more of that group on the way.
The team also adopted a few monikers for fan favorites. The one-nation combination of Kozlov, Fedorov, Larionov, Viacheslav Fetisov, and Vladimir Konstantinov formed the Russian Five, something concocted by head coach Scotty Bowman one night in Calgary in 1995 that became a sight to see. Imagine if advanced statistics existed back then!
The other well-known group involved a more physical brand of hockey than skillful, and that was the Grind Line, with, Darren McCarty, Kris Draper, and Kirk Maltby providing bottom six depth and toughness that was highly valued and held a higher place in the game when they played in their primes from the late 90s to mid 2000s. They came up big in the playoffs from time-to-time during the Cup runs as well.
Of course, the teams could not have gelled together without impressive coaches. The two standouts, a legend and legend-to-be.
Bowman oversaw the Red Wings from 1993-2002, winning 410 of his NHL record-holding 1244 games in 710 contests coached (.655 winning percentage). Three of his nine Stanley Cup rings came with Detroit, and he is currently the last coach to lead his team to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1997-98 when the Wings triumphed in consecutive sweeps over the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals.
Mike Babcock came in with the Wings underperforming in the playoffs under Dave Lewis, Bowman’s replacement from 2002-2004, post-lockout Babcock spent a decade in “Hockeytown,” keeping the tradition alive from years past with an intense style that got results. Detroit’s 458 wins under “Babs” again ranked 1st in the league, and the current Maple Leafs head coach holds the Red Wings record for all-time bench boss victories. He won his Stanley Cup in 2008 and got the Red Wings back to the Cup Final in 2009, only to lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games.
A streak like this brings countless memories to choose from, but here are a few highlights:
The Red Wings were in an intriguing spot at this time. Heavily favored but criticized for their lack of grit, they were coming off a curb stomping at the hands of the New Jersey Devils in the 1995 Stanley Cup Final a year before with two consecutive first round exits before that. Yzerman was rumored to be in trade talks. Those ended with one 60-foot slapshot to beat the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals in a grueling series. They would go on to lose to the Colorado Avalanche in six but would exact revenge and capture the Stanley Cup the next season.
McCarty wasn’t much of a goal scorer through his career, but he sure looked like one in possibly the biggest game of his life at the time. Picking up a pass from Tomas Sandstrom, he threw a move on Janne Niinimaa and tucked the puck in past Ron Hextall to extend Detroit’s lead. That would be the game-winning goal and keyed Detroit’s first Stanley Cup victory in 42 years.
In the days following Detroit’s Stanley Cup victory, Konstantinov was involved in a limousine accident that unfortunately ended his career. The Wings were coming off such a high and fell back to earth so quickly and came to the support of their teammate. That summer, Fedorov could not agree on a contract extension and his holdout lasted almost three quarters of the season. This included him signing an offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes that was matched by Detroit. Despite these two blows, the Wings came together and took off after Fedorov’s return. Goaltender Chris Osgood took over for Mike Vernon, Conn Smythe winner of the prior year. The then-24-year old battled adversity and center-ice goals propelling Detroit to a crucial Conference Finals win over the Dallas Stars, the best team in the League. The team, spurned by their inspiration in Konstantinov and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov, also involved in the crash, rolled the Capitals, leading to an unforgettable moment in hockey history:
In 2002, perhaps the last great battle of the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry, saw the two teams meet for the right to play for a Stanley Cup. In a hard-fought six games that saw each team split the series with three wins each, the stage was set for a memorable Game 7 that would see the winner likely win the Stanley Cup. No one likely foresaw what would happen next. The Wings torched long-time rival Patrick Roy with six goals and added another in garbage time by a young Datsyuk. They would win the Stanley Cup five games later.
“Conn Smythe Shift, Conn Smythe Goal”
Zetterberg was a rising star with Detroit but totally took off in 2007-08, scoring 43 goals and 92 points to be a key cog in Detroit extending the streak with a superstar they were looking for to replace the Yzermans and Shanahans of the past. He elevated his game to another level in the Playoffs, however, scoring 13 goals and 27 points in 22 games, with two lasting memories that went a long way in winning the franchise’s 11th Stanley Cup.
Even though it is the end of the line for this streak, it is certainly fitting that it occurs in the last season at Joe Louis Arena, the home of every playoff game throughout. While it is hard to say goodbye, the flip side is easy to see. A new era will dawn over the franchise as a rebuild will be in motion with the weight of the streak off the team’s shoulder with a new home to house it next season. Higher finishes have been the price to pay for the team with the inability to choose from the highest crop of young talent on the draft board. Lower finishes, although painful, will help Detroit retool with potential superstar cornerstones that can make the tremendous complements in Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou and more in Grand Rapids that much better. It will be unfamiliar territory for sure, but in the end, will be needed to escape from the prolonged mediocrity seen for the past few seasons.
Tonight and the next couple weeks, however, it is completely acceptable to reminisce.