About a month ago, I thought the Red Wings streak of 22 straight years in the NHL playoffs was going to end.
A rash of injuries had the Red Wings on the outside looking in with only nine games remaining in the season.
But this young group of Red Wings answered the challenge in impressive fashion, posting an impressive 6-3 record down the stretch. It was a lot of fun to watch.
Their reward, of course, is the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, which means they play No. 1 seed Boston in a first-round series starting tonight.
Not since 1989-90 had the Red Wings missed the playoffs, and that was when they finished last in the old Norris Division.
It wasn’t until last season that the Red Wings even came close to missing the playoffs again. They won their last four games of the regular season to squeak in, kind of like this year.
Then they upset the Anaheim Ducks in the first round and took a 3-1 series lead over the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round, before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in overtime of Game 7.
Hopefully the Red Wings can make another improbable playoff run this season.
That would be pretty amazing, considering where this team was only a month ago.
What has been most impressive this season is how they have overcome so many injuries.
They will still be without Jonathan Ericsson, Dan Cleary, Mikael Samuelsson, Stephen Weiss and Henrik Zetterberg when they play the Bruins, but that has opened the door for several younger players who have seized the opportunity.
The Red Wings have turned to homegrown kids like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Danny DeKeyser, Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening. And a lot of those kids, like Nyquist and DeKeyser, have blossomed before our eyes.
These younger players should not be intimidated by the Bruins. They’ve been through extended playoff runs before, either in Detroit or Grand Rapids, where they won the American Hockey League championship lasts season.
Besides, the Red Wings beat the Bruins three out of four games during the regular season and are peaking at just the right time.
But the task will be far from easy.
The Bruins had the best record in the NHL this season and have been to the Stanley Cup finals twice in the last three years, winning in 2011.
The Bruins on paper should have the upper hand. They are, at this point, a deeper, more talented and more experienced team.
Boston goalie Tuukka Rask is better than Jimmy Howard and Zdeno Chara is a more blanketing shutdown defenseman than the Wings’ Niklas Kronwall.
Up front, the Wings will have a hard time matching the skill, strength, and ferocity of the Bruins’ four-line machine.
Howard can’t allow soft goals in this series. They would be devastating. And he must make an improbable save or two.
The Red Wings’ forwards must bury their scoring chances, because its highly unlikely Rask will yield soft goals.
All that said, I am going to go with the Red Wings pulling off the upset in seven games.
Whatever the outcome though, enjoy playoff hockey.
And enjoy what has become an annual rite of spring once again this season in Hockeytown.