DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings popped off the bench and skated slowly toward goaltender Ty Conklin to congratulate him as if it was just another victory on Monday night.
Tomas Holmstrom scored two goals to help Detroit beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 7-2 and clinch a team-record 21st straight playoff appearance.
The Red Wings said it was easy to explain their reaction to extending their playoff streak that is the best active run in professional sports and three times longer than any current one in the league.
“I think the bar is higher,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “That’s another thing we don’t think about. We just go out, we expect to be in the playoffs, but it is a nice record and hopefully we will keep it going for many years.”
The NBA’s San Antonio Spurs are expected to extend their playoff streak to 15 years; the Philadelphia Phillies have been in five straight postseasons in baseball; and the Baltimore Ravens have been in the NFL playoffs four consecutive years.
San Jose, the only team other than Detroit to be in the playoffs every year since the NHL lockout, has the second-longest post-season streak at seven and that run is in jeopardy this season.
Detroit broke its franchise record of 20 straight years of reaching the playoffs set from 1939-58.
“For sure, it’s something special,” Holmstrom said.
Holmstrom scored twice to help the Red Wings take a 4-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game. They had a 6-0 cushion midway through the second period and a seven-goal lead early in the third.
“You know, we’re playing just for pride and nobody likes that,” Columbus centre Derick Brassard said. “No one likes to get embarrassed.”
The Blue Jackets are—by 16 points—in last place in the NHL with 55 points, but interim coach Todd Richards doesn’t think his team has given up on the season.
“Quit’s a strong word,” Richards said.
The Red Wings have won two straight after dropping six in a row.
Detroit is a point ahead of Nashville and five points in front of Chicago to be the fourth-seeded team—with home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs—with six games left in the regular season.
The Red Wings will host the Predators on Friday night and the Blackhawks on April 7 to close the regular season.
“We have to get better and feel good about our game,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.
The Red Wings have won an NHL-high 30 games at home, including a league-record 23 in a row earlier this season.
Holmstrom, who hadn’t scored in his previous 28 games, helped Detroit get off to a strong start against the Blue Jackets, who had players fall and turn the puck over without a Red Wing near them in the opening minutes.
Just 1:06 into the game, Holmstrom scored easily from the right side of the net on a tic-tac-toe play set up by perfect passes from Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall.
Gustav Nyquist scored his first NHL goal in his 12th game at the 5:35 mark of the first period.
Holmstrom scored his second goal, also on a power play, and Jiri Hudler had a goal less than a minute apart midway through the first period to make it 4-0.
The Red Wings looked as if they were toying with the Blue Jackets at times.
Pavel Datsyuk made a no-look pass on Nyquist’s goal as if he had a rear-view mirror on the side of his helmet.
“It’s just that sense he has of finding players all the time with passes,” Lidstrom said.
Later, Zetterberg dropped a pass between his legs to set up Holmstrom’s second goal.
Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart scored in the first half of the second period and Datsyuk added another goal early in the third to put the Red Wings ahead 7-0.
Columbus’ Mark Letestu scored 19 seconds later in the third to avoid the shutout and Rick Nash had a goal midway through the period to make it 7-2.
Conklin, playing for the injured Jimmy Howard, had 24 saves.
Steve Mason gave up six goals on 28 shots and was pulled in favour of Allen York by Richards for the second straight game. Allen allowed a goal on 11 shots.
“We could’ve had Patrick Roy in there, Ken Dryden, wouldn’t have mattered,” Richards said. “You can’t fault the goaltender on the first four. It was too easy for them.”
NOTES: Howard said he hopes to play Friday against Nashville while Johan Franzen (back) and Jonathan Ericsson (left wrist) may play Wednesday at Columbus. … Columbus scratched James Wisniewski, who hasn’t played since he was hit in the face by a puck last week, Derek MacKenzie (concussion), Fedor Tyutin (broken right hand) and Curtis Sanford (leg muscle tear). … Monday was the 15th anniversary of the Avalanche-Red Wings brawl in which Detroit’s Darren McCarty fought Colorado’s Claude Lemieux, leading to Roy of the Avs and Mike Vernon of the Red Wings dropping their gloves. … Letestu has points in eight of the past 11 games. … Zetterberg and Todd Bertuzzi each finished with four assists.