Yelling at the TV for 23 years/The Red Line
The last time the Detroit Red Wings failed to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I was finishing up kindergarten.
Wrap your brain around that one.
Riley Sheahan, who scored the game-tying goal Wednesday that guaranteed the Red Wings a spot in the 2014 postseason, was not yet born (date of birth: Dec. 7, 1991).
Granted, the first few seasons, making the playoffs wasn’t particularly hard (Detroit finished 34-38-8 in 1991-92 and finished third of five in the Norris Division in a day when 16 of 21 NHL teams made the playoffs), but this one took a lot of effort.
Consider the following: The only Red Wings who have played all 80 games this season are Drew Miller, a fourth-line grinder with seven goals, eight assists and a much more famous brother; and Kyle Quincey, which is English for ‘Andreas Lilja.’ The two combined have 28 points (in 160 games) and are minus-16.
Essentially, it’s been like trying to keep the SS Minnow afloat when Gilligan and Ginger were the only two people awake on board.
At least in theory, none of the above paragraphs really matters because Detroit’s in the playoffs. In practice, I find the idea that the Wings are capable of 16 more wins as currently composed against elite competition rather shaky.
Still, to continue this playoff streak into another season feels a little like passing on an heirloom.
A lot of young folks might not realize that at the time they won their first Stanley Cup of the ‘modern era,’ in 1997 against Philadelphia, no team in the league (save for expansion teams) had gone longer without winning.
There were quite a few disasters along the way: losing to eighth-seeded San Jose in a Game 7 at home in 1994 on a disastrous clearing attempt by Chris Osgood.
There was getting swept in the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals by New Jersey. It’s hard to say a sweep packed some sort of major life lesson, but I remember when Jim Dowd scored the eventual game-winning goal next to a prone Paul Coffey late in Game 2. Coffey had been injured blocking a shot earlier in the shift, but the referee did not see fit to stop the game. Don’t expect the world to wait for you to catch up.
The following year, we all got to see the rearranging of Kris Draper’s face at the hands of Claude Lemieux in the Western Conference Finals. All Detroit got out of it was the legendary Dino Ciccarelli quote, “I can’t believe I shook his friggin’ hand.” Life lesson: Sometimes tyrants win.
You’d think four Stanley Cups in the ensuing 17-year span would cure Red Wings fans of that angst. If Darren McCarty couldn’t exorcise those demons with a ridiculous Cup-clinching goal in Game 4, or if Steve Yzerman couldn’t do it by pinging a slapper off the crossbar to win a series against St. Louis the following year, who could?
The next time they won the Cup, 2002, I was graduating from high school. Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against Colorado was forced to take a back seat to family coming in from all corners, well, until I found a TV at the Marquette seafood restaurant we were eating at.
After that, 2008. I was in Escanaba at the time and remember waiting out 2 1/2 overtimes in a local pub in hopes of interviewing a joyous Red Wings fan or two. Petr Sykora scored in triple OT for the Penguins so all I got that night was lost sleep, but Detroit finished the series off in Pittsburgh the following night.
The following year, I was here – working, in fact, because Gary “Genius” Bettman ensured Game 7 of the rematch at Joe Louis Arena against the Pens was on a Friday night. We couldn’t figure out how to make the cable work and the Wings couldn’t figure out how to stop Max Talbot. Ugh.
Even then, I remember the disasters – against Edmonton, Calgary, Anaheim (more than once), Los Angeles. As much as I enjoy the fact that the Wings moving to the Eastern Conference means no more 10:30 p.m. starts, what’s even better is not having to deal with some of those ghosts.
If anything, this 23rd consecutive playoff run is something like playing with house money. Maybe they get swept in the first round? No expectations, right? I won’t even have to put up with “Chelsea Dagger,” the Blackhawks’ infernal goal song.
I bet I’ll still be yelling at the television, and that’s OK. It’s just how this time of year works when you like the Detroit Red Wings.
Brandon Veale can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale.