Red Wings-Rangers Preview
When the NHL's regular season ended on April 1, 1990, the Detroit Red Wings did not qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The longest postseason streak in major professional sports is what's followed, and it's now down to the final game of this season for the club to extend that record run.
Detroit chases its 25th straight trip to the postseason Saturday at Madison Square Garden against the playoff-bound New York Rangers, who are trying to finish third in the Metropolitan Division - although missing out on that may present a better scenario.
The Red Wings (41-29-11) had an opportunity to lock up a playoff berth with a victory at Boston on Thursday, but they lost 5-2 to fall into a third-place tie with the Bruins in the Atlantic at 93 points.
Boston faces Ottawa at the same time the Red Wings play at MSG, and in the event of the tie holding, scenarios exist to give either team the third-place playoff spot.
Detroit currently owns the first tiebreaker with a 39-38 edge in regulation and overtime wins, and adding to that column will automatically earn a berth. But if the Red Wings win in a shootout while Boston adds to its ROW total, the next tiebreaker goes to the Bruins since they've won three of the four meetings this season.
The team that fails to finish third will keep an eye on Philadelphia, which has 92 points with two games left in its bid for the Eastern Conference's second wild card. That team would open the playoffs against Washington while the Atlantic's third-place club would face Tampa Bay.
"For sure, we could be in a much worse situation," center Luke Glendenning told the team's official website. "If you said at the beginning of the year you'd have to win one game to get in, you would take that every time. Here we are and we gotta win a game."
And they have to win that game in an arena they haven't left with a victory in over six years. Since a 3-1 win at the Garden on Dec. 6, 2009, Detroit has dropped five in a row there, including a 1-0 overtime loss Feb. 21 that marked New York's third shutout in that span. The Rangers have outscored the Red Wings 11-4 on the home streak.
Henrik Zetterberg has been limited to a goal while playing four of those games and Pavel Datsyuk has skated in three of them and gone without a point.
Henrik Lundqvist was in net for all three shutouts and has won his last five home starts against Detroit with a 0.78 goals-against average, but coach Alain Vigneault has decided to sit his star netminder in favor of Antti Raanta.
Several other key players will be healthy scratches for New York and points leader Mats Zuccarello will rest to deal with a lower-body issue.
Lundqvist was yanked Thursday after giving up three goals in two periods as the Rangers (45-27-9) relinquished their hold on third in the Metro and fell into a tie with the Islanders with a 4-1 loss to their crosstown rivals.
Both clubs have 99 points, but the Isles have two games remaining.
"It's been like that every year, the last couple (of games) sorts out the seeding and who you're going to play," Marc Staal told the club's official website. "We wanted to win this game, we wanted it bad.
"... But we haven't lost any confidence in this room."
No matter where they finish, the Rangers will open the playoffs on the road. However, third place sends them to Pittsburgh - which has won eight in a row and 14 of 15 - while the first wild card pits them against Atlantic champion Florida. They lost three of four to the Penguins this season but won two of three against the Panthers.