RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Detroit Red Wings have had plenty of time to prepare for the end of one of the great streaks in North American major league sports.
So when they finally were eliminated from contention for the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Tuesday, they had made their peace with the demise of their 25-season run.
"We've been talking about this for the last two months," Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg said after a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. "It's a great streak. The guys who have been part of it should be proud of it. Unfortunately it's over. We've just got to move on and look to the future."
The Red Wings advanced past the first round of the playoffs 15 times and won the Stanley Cup four times during the streak that began in the 1990-91 season. Jeff Blashill is the fifth coach during the streak and said the business of starting anew begins right away.
"We've got to make sure we maintain this culture that we've talked about," he said. "You don't do that by getting through the season, you do that by treating every game extremely important. That's what we're looking at right now. That's our only focus."
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Blashill spent the 2011-12 season as an assistant in Detroit before coaching Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League to the Calder Cup the following season. Many of the players from his three seasons in the AHL are now with the Red Wings.
"Our focus is 100 percent on making sure that this is a one-time deal, not an eight-, nine-, 10-time deal," he said. "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."
The Red Wings started the season 6-0-2 but their power play cost them during the first half of the season. The unit dipped below 10 percent when the Red Wings went 17 road games without a goal on the man-advantage.
"It would have been nice to see the power play work a little bit earlier," Zetterberg said. "That's probably one of the reasons. Lately it's been better, so hopefully we've got it figured out."
The Boston Bruins made the playoffs 29 straight seasons (1967-68 through 1995-96). The Chicago Blackhawks made it 28 straight (1969-70 through 1996-97), and the St. Louis Blues made it 25 straight from (1979-80 through 2003-04). The Pittsburgh Penguins now have the longest NHL streak (11 seasons, including this one).
Detroit's 25 seasons were the longest active streak in the four major North American leagues (NHL, NFL, MLB, NBA). The San Antonio Spurs are about to compete in the NBA playoffs for a 21st straight season.
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Missing the playoffs will feel foreign to the players who are lifers in the Red Wings organization, but they are thankful for its lofty standards.
"It's tough. The bar has been raised so high for us," said goalie Jimmy Howard, who debuted with Detroit in 2007-08 reached the playoffs eight times. "We strive to push that bar every single year. To come up short is tough, but at the end of the day, that's the hand we've been dealt and we've just got to move forward."
Zetterberg, the longest-tenured Red Wings player at 994 games in 14 seasons, said there is no reason to let up now. The push for a new streak will not be interrupted.
"You can come to the rink as normal. You try to do your best every day," he said. "In that case, it's no different. You want to be in the hunt this time of the year, so that's new. But it's not like it happened today."
Much of the responsibility for getting back to playoffs will fall to Blashill. He said he welcomes the challenge, certain of what it will take to start the next streak.
"The fine line between winning and losing in this league is so minimal," he said. "There's lot of games where you're right there and you've got to make a play: a power-play goal, a blocked shot, a save. 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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