Wings clinch playoffs for 21st straight season

DETROIT — For all of the hype around the Red Wings’ NHL record 23-game home winning streak earlier this season, they now have another streak which deserves as much attention.

After thrashing the Columbus Blue Jackets (24-45-7) 7-2 at Joe Louis Arena Monday night, the Wings clinched a playoff berth for the 21st straight season.

It is the longest active playoff appearance streak in North American professional sports.

The funny thing is, when the NHL instituted a salary cap after the 2004-05 season, some critics believed that meant the end of the Wings’ superiority. After all, they would no longer be able to out-spend everyone like the New York Yankees.

But general manager Ken Holland and his front-office team have not allowed any slippage, despite being slammed with injuries in the 2008-09 season and this season.

Gustav Nyquist, who got his first career goal on a ridiculous backhand spin pass from Pavel Datsyuk, was born in 1989. He was 2 when the Wings started their run.

“That’s just pretty amazing,” Nyquist said. “I had no clue about that. But that’s pretty extraordinary, obviously. I think the management here, they do such a great job. We’re always a contender, I feel like. I feel thankful for management.”

Management feels thankful for captain Nick Lidstrom, who has been there for 20 of the 21 playoff appearances. Holland often kids that when Lidstrom retires, so will he.

“It shows a lot of consistency,” Lidstrom said of the streak. “We’ve had a lot of different players and different teams over the last 21 years. It shows that we’re a team that can be there once the playoffs come around.

“It’s not easy in today’s NHL to win games, all the teams are so even, so we should take a lot of pride in that. We’re not happy with that, we want to move on and continue to play well.”

Even opponents are dumbfounded at the Wings and their continued success.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Columbus’ Rick Nash, who had one of his team’s two goals. “It just shows the reputation of their organization and the kind of job they do from the bottom, to the top of the organization.”

Henrik Zetterberg is a perfect example of the way the Wings run their organization. He was chosen in the seventh round, 210th overall, in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. Zetterberg was allowed to grow in the Swedish Elite League before joining the Wings.

He was brought to Detroit to watch the 2002 group as they went through the Stanley Cup playoffs.

When he joined the Wings, Zetterberg was placed next to then-captain Steve Yzerman in the dressing room so he could observe what it takes to succeed at the NHL level.

Now, Zetterberg is considered one of the top players in the league. He demonstrated that with his career-high-tying four assist night Monday. Zetterberg has 12 goals and 19 assists in his last 24 games.

“I think the bar is higher,” Zetterberg said. “For us, that’s another thing we don’t think about. We just go out, we expect ourselves to be in the playoffs. But it is a nice record and hopefully we will keep it going for many years.”

Tomas Holmstrom, who has been there for all four of the most recent Stanley Cup victories, knows that there is a bigger goal than just reaching the playoffs.

“We’ve had such good teams and we’ve clinched the playoffs, but we want to win the Stanley Cup. That’s our end goal,” Holmstrom said.

When you make the playoffs 21 straight times, you can afford to set your goals a little higher.

The Boston Bruins hold the record with 29 straight playoff appearances from 1968-96. The Chicago Blackhawks are second with 28, the St. Louis Blues are third with 25 and the Montreal Canadiens fourth with 24.

“For this group, it just means that we’re in this year and that’s all that really matters,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We’ve got to get playing good. But when you look at a franchise that’s been there 21 years in a row, it’s spectacular. Obviously the Ilitches have done a great job.”