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An impressive run, but end of Red Wings’ playoff streak still ‘hurts’

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DETROIT (AP) Ken Holland swiveled away from a visitor in his office at Joe Louis Arena, picked up a thick book and plopped it onto his desk.

“This collective bargaining agreement was put in place for parity and competitive balance,” the Detroit Red Wings general manager said. “The CBA gave us the salary cap, and that has made it even harder to win and get into the playoffs.”

The NHL’s salary cap was established following the lockout in 2005 and designed to bring powerful teams like Detroit back to the pack. It took a while to slow the storied franchise, but it has happened.

For the first time since the 1989-90 season, the Red Wings can make tee times in mid-April instead of growing beards and chasing a Stanley Cup.

Detroit was officially eliminated from postseason contention late Tuesday night, signaling the end of a remarkable run that started when nine of the league’s current 30 teams didn’t exist.

The Red Wings rallied in the final days of recent seasons to grab spots and extend their playoff streak to 25 years, tying the third-longest run in league history. They simply didn’t have enough standouts this season, and injuries took away a small margin of error in their first season without Russian superstar Pavel Datsyuk in more than a decade.

“It hurts,” said Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg, who is missing the playoffs for the first time in his 14-season career. “We’ve been a part of something so great for so long here, making it to the postseason. The last couple of years, it’s been a struggle to get in, but we found a way to do it.

“It’s going to be tough when it actually sinks in and you’re going to be part of that team that didn’t continue. But after that, you’re probably going to be proud of it.”

Read more: It’s going to be a very different draft for the Red Wings

The Red Wings, and their fans, will have a lot of great memories of a spectacular stretch of seasons that included four Stanley Cup championships.

Back when the run started in the 1990-91 season, 21-year-old Russian rookie Sergei Fedorov was proving he was worth the risk it took to whisk him away from the Soviet national team — a former Red Wings executive picked him up in Portland, Oregon, in a limousine and put him on a private plane. He teamed up with another future Hall of Famer, Steve Yzerman, who was arguably in the prime of his career when the run started.

In the fifth year of the postseason streak, Detroit lost to the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final. The Red Wings hoisted hockey’s coveted trophy in 1997 to end a 42-year title drought and repeated the next year as champions. Since then, no team has pulled off that feat.

“This team was a legitimate competitor for the Stanley Cup for a lot of years,” said Yzerman, general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. “It wasn’t just a four- or five-year span, it’s been a 20-year span they’ve been legitimate contenders for the Cup. Kenny’s done a tremendous job of managing the team and keeping it competitive on a yearly basis.”

Boasting a bunch of future Hall of Famers, the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 2002 under coach Scotty Bowman. Perhaps most impressively, they did it again in 2008 under coach Mike Babcock in the third season of the salary cap era after having to drastically cut back on their New York Yankees-like spending sprees.

“When you look back at how good the team has been in the 90’s, to the salary cap era after the lockout in 04/05 which made it so much harder to keep the streak going and still being a team that was competing for the Cup,” former defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom wrote in an email Wednesday. “The league is celebrating 100 years and the Wings made the playoffs the last 25 years, that’s an amazing streak!”

Holland, though, and his staff were unable to find late-round gems such as Zetterberg and Datsyuk, drafted in the seventh and sixth round, respectively, to keep the talent coming. He also couldn’t afford to keep players he wanted, including Marian Hossa, who left Detroit to cash in on free agency and help the Chicago Blackhawks win Stanley Cups.

And now that the run is over, even competitors aren’t celebrating.

“I feel remorseful that this is happening, especially in the last season at Joe Louis Arena,” said Buffalo Sabres coach Dan Bylsma, who helped Pittsburgh hoist a cup on Detroit’s home ice in 2009. “When I was a young kid, growing up in Michigan as a fan of this team, it was known as Dead Wings era. The Red Wings didn’t make the playoffs back then and then they got great players like Yzerman, Zetterberg, Datsyuk and the franchise has been a remarkable example of consistent excellence for many years.”

 

Longtime Berenson assistant Pearson named new Michigan coach

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Michigan went the familiar route in replacing legendary head coach Red Berenson.

Mel Person, who spent 23 years as Berenson’s assistant before taking the head gig at Michigan Tech, has been named the ninth head coach in UM Hockey history, the school announced on Monday.

“I am thrilled to select Mel to lead our hockey program and for him to return home to U-M following tremendous success in leading the Michigan Tech program,” said director of athletics Warde Manuel. “I’ve known Mel for years and experienced his leadership ability when I was the sport administrator for hockey and he was an assistant under Red (Berenson).

“Mel’s qualifications are well known throughout the hockey community and reach far beyond his ability to coach. Simply put, I couldn’t have selected a finer person to lead our ice hockey program into the future.”

Pearson, 58, took Michigan Tech to a pair of NCAA Tournaments during his six years on the job. Several players advanced to the NHL on his watch including Chicago’s Tanner Kero, Edmonton’s Jujhar Khaira and New Jersey’s Blake Pietila.

Two weeks ago, Berenson stepped down from his post at Michigan after 33 years on the job. Together, he and Pearson captured two national championships together.

Backstrom believes Caps are ‘underdogs’ against Pens

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The Washington Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy by seven points over the Pittsburgh Penguins this season, but someone forgot to tell Nicklas Backstrom.

Heading into their second-round matchup against Pittsburgh, Backstrom believes the Capitals are the underdogs in the series, per beat reporter Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Well Nicklas, that’s one way to look at it.

Backstrom is clearly trying to take some of the pressure off of his team’s shoulders, but maybe he’s onto something.

As you may remember, a similar situation arose last year. The Capitals had more points than any other team in 2015-16, but that didn’t stop them from being eliminated by these same Penguins in the second round. Eventually, Pittsburgh went on to hoist the Stanley Cup.

This time, the Capitals won’t have to worry about star defenseman Kris Letang, as he’s out with an upper-body injury. Pittsburgh was able to overcome the Letang injury (Matt Murray too) in round one against Columbus, but Washington is a different animal.

Even without Letang, getting by Pittsburgh won’t be easy, especially when stars like Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby are rolling.

Malkin finished the first round with two goals and an incredible 11 points in five games, while Kessel and Crosby had eight and seven points respectively against Columbus.

Things were a little more difficult offensively for Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, as they posted six, three and three points in six games against the Leafs.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who has the most points and it doesn’t matter who the underdog is in the series either. All that counts is advancing through to the next round.

PHT Morning Skate: Are Thornton and Marleau done in San Jose?

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–After reaching the Stanley Cup Final last year, the San Jose Sharks lasted just one round in 2017. With both Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st, could their time in San Jose be over? We know that Logan Couture wants both players to come back, but would that be the right decision? Allowing them to leave could thrust young players into roles they’re not ready for, but keeping them around and icing a similar team could lead to another first-round exit. (Mercury News)

–The Philadelphia Flyers took a step back this season, as they failed to make the playoffs, but at least the future appears to be bright. They’ve managed to stockpile quality prospects and their farm team finished with the second best record in the AHL. (Philly.com)

–Former NHLer Brandon Prust spent a couple of months hanging around the Leafs earlier this season, but he never ended up getting a contract so he went off to Germany. Prust said the experience was great, but he was a little frustrated that Toronto decided to acquire players like Eric Fehr and Brian Boyle instead of giving him a shot. “I feel I belonged there and I could have helped that team; but what are you going to do? That’s hockey. I felt they really needed a guy like me; and I know I could have helped them. Then they go and make trades for players similar to me. It’s tough.” (Yahoo)

–Justin Bieber made an appearance at the ACC last night. He was wearing a custom Leafs jersey, and he seemed to be pretty into it. Unfortunately for Biebs, his team couldn’t extend the series to seven games. (BarDown)

–The Toronto Maple Leafs pushed the Washington Capitals as much as they could, but they just ran out of steam in Game 6. Check out the highlights from the Caps’ 2-1 OT win by clicking the video at the top of the page.

Braden Holtby, Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price were named finalists for the Vezina Trophy. The Hockey News makes a case for each of the three goaltenders, but Bobrovsky’s gotta be considered the favorite.  Jared Clinton writes: “It’s not just Bobrovsky’s base numbers that are impressive, either. His underlying numbers makes his case further. The only goaltending with 1,000-plus minutes at 5-on-5 to post a better SP than Bobrovsky’s .939 mark was Craig Anderson.” (The Hockey News)

–It sounds like Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski is pretty confident that Auston Matthews is going to walk away with the Calder Trophy this year:

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs second-round schedule

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Time to get your ducks in a row (Anaheim or otherwise), as the second-round schedule has been released.

As you can see, the West series begin on Wednesday while the East ones kick into gear on Thursday. Read up on the matchups here.

For the sixth consecutive year, every Stanley Cup playoff game will be presented nationally across the platforms of NBC Sports Group and select NBCUniversal networks.

(Games listed by date, start time, teams and network.)

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Date TIME (ET) #1 Washington vs. #2 Pittsburgh Networks
Thursday, April 27 7:30 p.m. Pittsburgh at Washington NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 29 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Washington NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Monday, May 1 7:30 p.m. Washington at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Wednesday, May 3 7:30 p.m. Washington at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Saturday, May 6 TBD Pittsburgh at Washington TBD
*Monday, May 8 TBD Washington at Pittsburgh TBD
*Wednesday, May 10 TBD Pittsburgh at Washington TBD

Date TIME (ET) #2 Ottawa vs. #4 NY Rangers Networks
Thursday, April 27 7 p.m. NY Rangers at Ottawa CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 29 3 p.m. NY Rangers at Ottawa NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Tuesday, May 2 7 p.m. Ottawa at NY Rangers NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Thursday, May 4 7:30 p.m. Ottawa at NY Rangers NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Saturday, May 6 TBD NY Rangers at Ottawa TBD
*Tuesday, May 9 TBD Ottawa at NY Rangers TBD
*Thursday, May 11 TBD NY Rangers at Ottawa TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Date TIME (ET) #1 Anaheim vs. #2 Edmonton Networks
Wednesday, April 26 10:30 p.m. Edmonton at Anaheim NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Friday, April 28 10:30 p.m. Edmonton at Anaheim NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 30 7 p.m. Anaheim at Edmonton NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Wednesday, May 3 10 p.m. Anaheim at Edmonton NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
*Friday, May 5 TBD Edmonton at Anaheim TBD
*Sunday, May 7 TBD Anaheim at Edmonton TBD
*Wednesday, May 10 TBD Edmonton at Anaheim TBD

Date TIME (ET) #3 St. Louis vs. #4 Nashville Networks
Wednesday, April 26 8 p.m. Nashville at St. Louis NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Friday, April 28 8 p.m. Nashville at St. Louis NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 30 3 p.m. St. Louis at Nashville NBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Tuesday, May 2 9:30 p.m. St. Louis at Nashville NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
*Friday, May 5 TBD Nashville at St. Louis TBD
*Sunday, May 7 TBD St. Louis at Nashville TBD
*Tuesday, May 9 TBD Nashville at St. Louis TBD

Starting time and national broadcast information for games listed TBD will be announced when available.