They’re doing it again.
Why anyone would question the Detroit Red Wings’ playoff prowess at this point is beyond comprehension. All they’ve done is qualify for the postseason every single year since the 1989-90 campaign. Let that sink in for a second. Detroit hasn’t missed the playoffs since MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice were popular. In fact, only two NHL postseasons have taken place that didn’t involve the Red Wings since 1983.
It’s not like they get to the playoffs and then just fizzle out either. Since the streak began in 1990, the Wings have played in 52 series and won 33 of them. That’s a .635 winning percentage, and it might be the most amazing stat of all, actually.
So why does any of this matter right now?
Because Detroit stumbled down the stretch earlier this month, dealt with some inconsistencies in net, fooled some onlookers into believing they might actually miss the postseason… and are now up in their first round series against a very talented Tampa Bay club. They took home ice advantage away in Game 1, then preserved it with a 3-0 shutout over the NHL’s highest scoring team in Game 3. So much for being the underdog.
Perhaps most striking is the way the Wings are doing this. They named 23-year old backup Petr Mrazek the starter heading into Game 1, proceeded to get outshot 46-14 (no, seriously) and still stole a 3-2 victory from the Lightning. On the road, no less. And oh by the way, Tampa had the best home record in all of hockey this season. That advantage was supposed to mean something in this one.
Mrazek got pulled after allowing four tallies in Game 2, but the Wings had already accomplished their primary goal: splitting the first two games in Florida. And Mike Babcock – a beacon of playoff experience behind the bench – didn’t hesitate in going right back to the youngster for Game 3 on Tuesday. The result? That 3-0 shutout.
Now Detroit is in control of yet another playoff series, and a strong case could be made that past postseason success is playing a major role. Forwards like Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist obviously haven’t been on the team for the past 25 years, but there is definitely a culture of winning around the franchise – especially when the games matter most.
That culture keeps getting passed on from generation to generation. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg weren’t part of those mid-90’s teams, but they learned a lot about rising to the occasion from guys like Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom. Now they’re leading by example for a new crop of talent.
That’s the way to sustain success. The Wings never have to go into “rebuild” mode because they never actually rebuild – they just reload on the fly. Think of them as the New England Patriots (minus deflated footballs, of course). They rarely miss with their personnel moves, they pick and choose who they want late in drafts and – above all – they just keep winning.
Which takes us back to the series with the Lightning.
Is it over? Um, no. Obviously not. Tampa is extremely talented, and loaded with young stars up front. But many of those young stars are experiencing the playoffs for the first time. So while Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat – a trio that combined for 199 points this year – are still relatively new to this whole Stanley Cup Playoff experience, they have to learn in a hurry against the likes of Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall. Among others.
It’s not just the players either. Jon Cooper is one of the better head coaches in this league, but Game 3 was just his seventh career NHL playoff game behind the bench. Meanwhile, Mike Babcock has already won a Stanley Cup and appeared in two others.
Ultimately, this isn’t so much about Tampa’s inexperience as it about Detroit’s ridiculous resume though. The Wings were heavily dominated in the first two games, getting outshot 76-38 and managing just a 43.85 SAT percentage – the lowest of the 16 playoff teams. But they found a way to weather the storm, didn’t get rattled, came out with a win and looked a lot more stable during their second victory Tuesday. That’s the sign of a club that’s been here before.