As familiar as rain in the spring is an appearance by the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
For the past 13 seasons, they have been joined by the New Jersey Devils, but that has changed because the one constant team in the Eastern Conference didn’t measure up this year. Detroit’s dominance dates even further: Not since 1990 have the Red Wings sat out the race for the Cup.
Captain Nicklas Lidstrom, in his 19th NHL season, has seen it all. Throughout his surely Hall of Fame career, Lidstrom has only worn a winged wheel sweater and has never missed the playoffs.
“Having been with such a good organization for 20 years, and being part of a winning tradition here, you almost take it for granted,” Lidstrom said of being a playoff staple. “Last year was the hardest one where we really had to focus and get some wins and had our backs up against the wall for pretty much the whole season.
“It’s always been fun going into the playoffs. People are always waiting for April to come around for the playoffs.”
The waiting ends today, when the NHL postseason begins with the Red Wings, the No. 3 seed in the West, hosting the sixth-seeded Phoenix Coyotes.
During this 20-season run, Detroit has captured the Cup four times and been to the finals in two other years.
The Red Wings could pose a serious threat to the No. 1-seeded Vancouver Canucks and the second-seeded San Jose Sharks, who are still seeking their first trip to the finals.
The Canucks, who topped the NHL with a team-record 117 points (54 wins, nine overtime losses), have been knocked out in the second round by Chicago in each of the past two years. The Blackhawks rode last season’s win all the way to the Stanley Cup title and will likely have confidence again when they take on Vancouver in the first round.
“That’s a dangerous team,” Canucks goalie Robert Luongo said of the eighth-seeded Blackhawks. “They know how to win.”
In the other Western matchups, the Sharks will take on the Los Angeles Kings in a rare all-California series, and the Anaheim Ducks will face the Nashville Predators.
Over in the East, the Philadelphia Flyers will look to start a second consecutive run to the Cup finals, this time from the No. 2 position instead of last year’s seventh seeding. The quest starts against Buffalo, one of the hottest teams heading into the playoffs.
Boston is back in after winning the Northeast Division and will face No. 6 seed Montreal for the 33rd time and third in four years.
Alex Ovechkin will lead No. 1 seed Washington against the New York Rangers, and Sidney Crosby’s No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins will take on No. 5 Tampa Bay.
Dallas fired coach Marc Crawford after the Stars finished with the most points of any team in NHL history to miss the playoffs. Dallas was eliminated from contention on the final day of the season. The New York Islanders kept coach Jack Capuano, dropping the interim tag from his title. Calgary general manager Jay Feaster said team captain Jarome Iginla will definitely return for a 15th season with the Flames.
First round/ Best of seven
Phoenix at Detroit, 4 p.m., Versus, CBUT
Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh, 4 p.m., Root
N.Y. Rangers at Washington, 4:30 p.m., Versus
Chicago at Vancouver, 7 p.m., Versus, CBUT
Nashville at Anaheim, 7:30 p.m.
Montreal at Boston, 4 p.m., Versus, CBUT
Buffalo at Philadelphia, 4:30 p.m., Versus
Los Angeles at San Jose, 7 p.m., Versus