Henrik Zetterberg as Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, in the upcoming comic, "The Avengers: Red Wings Initiative." Drawn by Christina Roberts, aka me.

23 Years Strong - Why This Playoff Appearance Feels So Good To Detroit Red Wings Fans

Apr 9, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Detroit Red Wings center Riley Sheahan (left center) celebrates his third period goal with right wing Tomas Jurco (left) and left wing Tomas Tatar (21) and defenseman Niklas Kronwall (55) against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 4-3 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It was the first shootout loss of the season where fans didn’t care that the second point went to the opposition.

Because all we needed was that first point.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since before Wednesday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Detroit Red Wings have extended their playoff streak to twenty-three consecutive years.

And the jokes on Twitter commenced:

There’s less of a feeling of entitlement coming with this 23rd playoff appearance and more of a feeling that we deserve it. Last year, this team fought down to the last five games of the season and squeaked through, giving fans a sense of relief.

This year, there was doubt. There was serious doubt. Fans argued with other fans. At times, it felt like the entire fanbase was going to implode on itself. And beat writers criticizing everything about the Red Wings did not make the situation better. This team of injured veterans, recurring injuries, and consistent disappointments could barely manage to string three victories together. The odds felt against us from the very beginning.

In the process, we lost Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. We came to realize that this team suffers more when we lack Zetterberg rather than Datsyuk. Neither case is ideal, but the team struggled without their captain.

Much like the comic over on the left, Zetterberg hasn’t been a part of this team since the Olympic break. When he went on IR for back surgery, the team still struggled to understand just where they were and what they needed to do. Now…now as Zetterberg preps to start skating as soon as next week, there isn’t as much of a rush to get him back to playing form.

Give credit to Niklas Kronwall. The defenseman took leadership to another level completely. Likewise, Mike Babcock has coached the crap out of this team of AHLers. Neither of these two should be overlooked.

In a sense, this certainty is almost like delayed gratification. The logjam that was the last three weeks with four teams tied in points for two wildcard spots created so much tension and uncertainty with every passing period of hockey. But, to borrow Tom Hiddleston’s line, doesn’t this feel better after all the waiting? After all the ups and down and uncertainty, it’s an utter relief. For the first time this season, we don’t have to fret over the remaining games.

So celebrate, Red Wings fans. Enjoy the continued streak. Don’t take it for granted, as easy as it is to do. After such a tumultuous season when most people counted this team out, this feels like certainty for the future. The team may not make it past the first round. They might make it to the conference finals. Either way, we’re guaranteed at least four more games this season.

There’s always hope.

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Tags: 2014 Playoffs Henrik Zetterberg NHL

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