By earning a point last night in a shootout loss to Pittsburgh, the Detroit Red Wings clinched their 23rd straight postseason berth. They salvaged that point on this goal from center Riley Sheahan. Riley Sheahan wasn't yet born the last time the Red Wings missed the playoffs.
Neither were Tomas Tatar or Brian Lashoff or Tomas Jurco, other reinforcements from Grand Rapids who have gotten significant minutes because of a series of injuries to Detroit's top guys. This is a team that spent large parts of the season without Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, and Henrik Zetterberg, among others.
The Red Wings are one of the best-run franchises in all of pro sports, able to compete year after year, keeping its identity even as its core players age out or leave. This NHL version of the Ship of Theseus is seemingly able to call up any old prospect, and have them turn into a competent NHL player. It's got to be endlessly frustrating for other teams to see Detroit do this over and over, even nine years into the salary cap—it's simply not supposed to be possible.
But names like Danny DeKeyser, Joakim Andersson, and dark horse superstar Gustav Nyquist fill out the lineup night after night, guys you probably hadn't heard of one or two years ago. This is how it always seems to be in Detroit, and that's a monument to the organization—scouting, drafting, nurturing. It's also a tribute to Mike Babcock, because having a talent pipeline and utilizing it properly are two very different things. Babcock, who on Tuesday became the Red Wings' all-time winningest coach, has put together the single best coaching job of his career. He's probably not going to get the Jack Adams consideration he deserves, since in a vacuum, "the Red Wings sneaking into the playoffs" sounds like an underachievement. But this is a team that has absolutely no business being where it is, and it's a triumph as big as anything Detroit's achieved in years.
With either Boston or Pittsburgh on deck, it's likely to be a short-lived triumph. That's OK. They've already beaten worse odds.
"We played well, we've been playing well and we've been getting better," coach Mike Babcock said. "Whoever we get, we're going to be a tough out."