Dylan Larkin wasn’t even a gleam in his parents eye the last time the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs.
The 20-year-old, along with this teammates, experienced the end of an era on Tuesday night as the Red Wings ended their 25 season straight playoff run. It’s one of many ‘ends’ Detroit has experienced this year.
“With a historic storied franchise like the Red Wings, you’re going to have the ups and the downs we’ve had: losing Mr. I, losing Gordie Howe, the upside of hopefully the new energy of moving into a new arena,” Larkin said to the Ottawa Citizen. “There’s a lot of positives and, of course, some negatives. You just have to try to tune out those negatives. You’ve got to find a way to just play and enjoy being a Detroit Red Wing. Because we know just how special it is.”
The Red Wings were officially eliminated from playoff contention after a whole host of factors went against them Tuesday night: Detroit lost to the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-1. The Boston Bruins beat the Nashville Predators, 4-1.
The death blow came from the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were victorious over the Florida Panthers.
“It is a great streak,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said to the Detroit Free Press. “The guys that have been a part of it should be proud of it.”
Coach Jeff Blashill was 16 when the playoffs began without the Red Wings in April 1990. Fifteen players who have appeared in a game for the Red Wings this season hadn’t been born.
Now think of how much the Red Wings accomplished over the next 25 seasons, a quarter of the Centennial the NHL is celebrating this season.
They won the Stanley Cup four times, tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for most in that span, and came within a game of winning it a fifth when they lost Game 7 of the Final to the Penguins in 2009. They went to the Final six times.
They won the Presidents’ Trophy six times, three times more than any other team in that span. They won 1,133 regular-season games, 104 more than any other team, and earned 2,536 points, 209 more than any other team.
They set records for wins in a season (62 in 1995-96), road wins in a season (31 in 2005-06), consecutive road wins (12 in 2005-06) and consecutive home wins (23 in 2011-12), and they tied the record for home wins in a season (36 in 1995-96).
For 21 seasons, they didn’t come close to missing the playoffs. They finished in the top four in their conference 18 times and had a cushion of at least a dozen points the other three times. It wasn’t until the past few seasons that they had to fight to make the playoffs.
Some franchises could only dream of that magnitude of success over 50 years, let alone 25.
“Unfortunately, it is over,” added Zetterberg. “We have to move on and look to the future.”
Jeff Blashill and GM Ken Holland echoed the captain’s sentiments.
“We’ve all known we’re in a tough spot here,” said head coach Jeff Blashill. “Our focus is 100 percent on making sure that this is a one-time deal, not an eight-, nine-, 10-time deal.
“You do that by making sure you maintain the culture that has allowed that streak to continue for a long time: work ethic, attention to detail, selflessness, competitiveness. We have to make sure that’s there every single night. You can’t let it slip whatsoever. Once you let it slip, it’s hard to get it back.”
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But the end of the streak is not the end of the Red Wings. The streak was a product of what the Red Wings built, which is why they have been fighting so hard to maintain their culture. They know it will be hard to land a generational talent without selecting at or near the top of the draft, but they do not want to accept losing and go into a full rebuild because that can take years and there are no guarantees.
“I don’t believe that you can just plan to be bad for a period of time and wake up on the other side and be good,” Holland said. “You’ve got to be bad in the right year, and then you’ve got to win the lottery.
“And so I think you want to compete. We want to try to compete for a playoff spot. Our goal as we head into the offseason is to try to put a team together to try to compete for a playoff spot.”
The Red Wings have managed to stay competitive all these seasons without depending on the draft lottery. They’ve found jewels in late rounds and fostered prospects into stars.
This is merely a bump in the road for a historic franchise.
With supremely talented kids like Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou already showing returns in a down year, the Red Wings will be right back where they need to be sooner rather than later.
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