Most sports fans are happy just to see their team make the playoffs. But Detroit Red Wings fans have been able to take that for granted for a record 22 straight seasons. The last time the Red Wings didn’t make the playoffs, not one current NHL player was in the league. Some of the current Red Wings weren’t born. Nine current franchises weren’t yet created.
But the record seemed doomed to be broken this season.
To start, there almost wasn’t a season at all, thanks to the contract dispute between the players and the owners, who both thought the other side was making too much money. And, of course, both sides were right – setting up a game of chicken between self-destructive lunatics.
When a federal mediator finally brought them to their senses in January, they had just enough time left to play a 48-game schedule – which actually seemed about right. But the Red Wings came out flat-footed, falling so far behind they had to win their last four games just to sneak into the seventh of eight playoff spots.
In the first round, they faced the Ducks of Anaheim – formerly the Mighty Ducks – which is already an affront to everything that is holy about hockey.
Amazingly, the Red Wings beat them in seven games – quite an upset. Their reward: an even tougher opponent, the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks, who earned at least one point in their first 24 games, which is a record.
But for hardcore hockey fans – and really, are there any other kind? – this series was a reward.