The Red Wings’ playoff streak is in serious danger. At 24 consecutive seasons and counting, the Wings’ stretch of post-season appearances is the longest active streak in the big four North American pro sports leagues. But for the third year in a row, the Red Wings will have to go down to the wire to keep it alive, fending off a late challenge by the Philadelphia Flyers that threatens to finally snap the streak.
There’s an argument to be made that the Wings’ streak is the most impressive in NHL history, given the size of the league and the relentless push toward parity. But it’s not the only such streak the league has seen, or even the longest. Five other NHL teams have had playoff streaks longer than 20 consecutive seasons.
Let’s take a look back at those five teams, and how their streaks eventually ended.
1969-70 Montreal Canadiens
The streak: From 1949 to 1969, a 21-year span that included ten Stanley Cup championships.
How it ended: After winning four Cups in five years, including the 1969 title, the Habs finished the 1969-70 season with a 38-22-16 record. That left them tied with the Rangers for the final spot, leading to a wild and controversial final day of the season in which New York passed the Canadiens amid accusations of the Red Wings tanking to knock out Montreal.
What went wrong: The NHL couldn’t figure out how divisions should work in a post-expansion world.
That seems glib, but it’s hard to argue. The 1969-70 Canadiens finished the season with 92 points in 76 games. That was the fifth best record in the 12-team NHL. But it was also the fifth best record in the East Division, the one the league had put all the established Original Six teams into while giving the six expansion teams their own division. Because each division sent four teams to the playoffs, that left the 92-point Canadiens watching from home as teams like the 64-point Penguins, 60-point North Stars and 58-point Seals punched their tickets to the post-season.
The good news: The league finally began moving away from the ridiculous all-expansion division format after adding two more teams in 1970. The Canadiens immediately returned to the playoffs, won the Stanley Cup, and started a new streak.