Johnson: It’s been an incredible 21 seasons since the Wings last missed the playoffs
Detroit in dire danger of that streak ending, however, with Columbus and Dallas making life difficult for them
In 1990, the average price of a movie ticket was $4.23. Greta Garbo died in 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, the (now late) Margaret Thatcher resigned as prime minister of Great Britain, the reunification of Germany was in full swing . . .
Oh, and the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the last time.
Twenty-one seasons ago.
“We don’t want to let that streak end,” Dan Cleary, eight years a Red Wing, is saying the morning of Game 43 of this uncharacteristically-anxiety-filled, lockout-shortened Motor City campaign. “We don’t want to let it end on our watch. On Hank (Henrik Zetterberg)’s watch, him being the captain.
“It’s another driving force.
“There’s a lot of pride in this room, for sure.”
To put Detroit’s longevity feat in perspective: Sid the Kid was Sid the Tyke in the spring of 1990, all of two and a half years old. Stevie Y was captain of the Wings then and Rick Zombo played the most games on defence. Coach Jacques Demers used four goaltenders — Tim Cheveldae, Glen Hanlon, Sam St. Laurent and Greg Stefan — and still the Winged Wheel wound up ninth in the Clarence Campbell Conference, five points shy of the L.A. Kings.
That summer, they DRAFTED Nick Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov. So yes, we’re scrolling back a ways.
Since then, the Wings been the gold standard for every NHL organization.
We’ve simply come to accept them being involved in the playoffs, putting an authentic Stanley Cup contender on the ice, as a matter of course; a given. Yet readying for the bottom-feeding Calgary Flames on Wednesday morning they found themselves tied with the who-in-blazes-do-they-think-they-are Columbus Blue Jackets for eighth spot in the Western Conference. The Jagr-less, Morrow-less Dallas Stars hovered an uneasy two points adrift.
Usually we’re not discussing not ‘if’ but ‘who’ in terms of post-season for the Red Wings.
So this is indisputably an unfamiliar, precarious position for GM Ken Holland and Co. to find themselves in.
“There hasn’t been any panic, that’s for sure,” emphasized goaltender Jimmy Howard. “But there is a sense of urgency. We’ve been playing with that the last several games and it’s going to be no different tonight.
“The guys who played here before us set the bar real high. That’s a good thing. In Detroit every single year, it’s the Stanley Cup playoffs, and make a run towards the Cup. Those standards, even though they’re high, they’re something for us a team to have a common goal.”
If this current fight to actually slide into the playoffs has done anything, it’s reinforced how ridiculously well the Wings have been run for over two decades. Through changing times, financial landscapes, personnel turnovers and trends, they’ve been the constant.
“Pressure?” said coach Mike Babcock on Wednesday. “When you get 125 points and you drop the puck in the first round, there’s pressure. Pressure usually means you have a chance. Now, the pressure on us is to maximize our potential and be as good as we’re capable of being.
“I think we’re where we should be, to be honest with you. I think we’re battling hard. I’ve heard all year we’re not consistent. We are consistent. You go through each month we’re one game or two games over each month. This is what we are. We’ve got to find a way to crawl into the playoffs. We’ve got a great opportunity here today.”
For the Wings, four wins from their last six should be good enough to book passage onto the playoff tramp-steamer.
“I don’t know what’s better at this time of year,” shrugged Babcock. “Is it better to play a team that’s in the playoffs and a little more comfortable? Is it better to play a team that’s fighting for their life, maybe seized up a little bit? Or is it better to play a team that has some kids and they’re just loose? Aaaah, I don’t know the answers to any of these questions and it’s a waste of time thinking about it.
“So let’s play.”
That they will, and if they play to their potential, even compromised by the lingering shadows of Lidstrom, Brad Stuart and Tomas Holmstrom, amazing playoff streak will in fact be pushed to 22 consecutive seasons. And counting.
In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait leading to the Gulf War, Don Getty was Alberta premier, Lech Walesa became president of Poland and a first-class stamp cost 29 cents.
Times were certainly different back then.
Just as times have certainly changed for the playoff-uncertain Detroit Red Wings now.
“It’s obviously a different situation than most guys in here are used to,” conceded Cleary. “But it is what it is. I mean, you have to embrace it, really. You can’t be p---ed off by it. We’ve had a lot of key guys injured. Saying that, I think we did a good job.
“We’ve got great goalies who give us a chance every night. We’re led by two great players, Pav (Pavel Datsyuk) and Z.
“The West is tough. We’re right there. We control our own destiny.
“You just gotta get in, then see what happens.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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