DETROIT – Throughout the years Joe Louis Arena has played host to many colossal hockey games, though most have been reserved for epic battles in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Wednesday night’s pivotal contest against Philadelphia will arguably be the Red Wings’ biggest regular-season home game since 1990 when they last missed the postseason.
This year’s playoff scenario is simple, at least in theory: beat Philadelphia and Boston – on back-to-back nights – and the Red Wings punch their ticket to a remarkable 25th consecutive playoff appearance.
Regulation losses in one or both games won’t necessarily disqualify the Wings, but they’ll need outside help to get in.
Currently, the Wings are tied in points with Philadelphia, who have a game in hand on Detroit. After Wednesday, the Wings end their season with road games at Boston on Thursday and at the New York Rangers on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Bruins’ final three games are all at home, beginning tonight against Carolina. Boston has 90 points, one behind the Wings for third place in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins host Ottawa in Saturday’s finale.
“Two things, it’s enjoying the moment, this is the time of year where it’s fun. Every game matters,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “Game No. 1 mattered as much as this one does. It’s just that these get magnified. Let’s enjoy this, let’s enjoy this great opportunity we have in front of us but let’s also focus on the process of what it takes to be successful.”
This will mark the fourth straight year the Wings head to the last week of the season with a cloud hanging over their playoff hopes. Last season, Detroit clinched in Game 81 at Montreal. The year before that the Wings qualified in Game 80 at Pittsburgh, and in the season finale at Dallas in 2013.
The Wings can’t clinch on Wednesday but with so much at stake it is the most meaningful home game this late in the season since March 27, 1990.
That season, the Buffalo Sabres claimed a 6-5 victory at JLA to eliminate the Wings in the third from last game of the regular season. It was the last time they missed the playoffs.
Detroit’s current postseason streak is an anomaly in today’s NHL salary cap era, longer than the combined active streaks that the Penguins (nine), Blackhawks (seven) and Rangers (five) produced prior to this season.
The Wings’ active string of playoff berths is also the longest of any of the four major pro sports leagues in North America.
The San Antonio Spurs have clinched a playoff spot for a 19th straight season – the longest active streak in the National Basketball Association. At seven years each, the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers have the best active playoff streaks in the National Football League. And in baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals are owners of the longest current postseason run at five straight years.
Over the past month most, if not all, the Wings have been asked about the franchise’s streak, which began before nine of the current players were even born.
Henrik Zetterberg, who has let it be known in past weeks that the streak would not be snapped under his captaincy, was more insistent.
“For us it’s this season, making the playoffs this season, and if we do that automatically the streak will move on,” he said.
For others, the push doesn’t feel any different than recent years.
“No, it’s been the same feeling for several years now, playing until the final day of the regular season and making the push in the playoffs,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “We did a good job over the weekend and now we have to get ready for Philly Wednesday night.”