red wings know all too well how chicago feels.

Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard shut out Chicago in Game 4 to lead the Red Wings to a 3-1 lead in the Conference Semifinals.

Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard shut out Chicago in Game 4 to lead the Red Wings to a 3-1 lead in the Conference Semifinals.

The Detroit Red Wings’ Game 4 win over No. 1-seed Chicago last night has seemingly set up the improbable: a lower-seeded team now sits one win away from ousting the team with the most points from the playoffs. In the lockout-shortened season, Detroit needed a four-game win streak at the end of the season just to make the playoffs as a No. 7 seed, a rare place for a team that has claimed more Presidents’ Trophies (6) than any other team. But is it really so improbable?

While it’s too soon—MUCH TOO SOON—to throw dirt on the Blackhawks’ grave, it’s worth pointing out Detroit knows all too well how it feels to be in Chicago’s skates. Dating back to the 1990–91 season, the Red Wings have made the playoffs 22 consecutive seasons. In those 22 seasons, the Wings have been the No. 1 seed in their division or conference nine times. Twice, those top-seeded Wings lost in the first round and twice again in the second round. All this to point out how seedings many times don’t matter in hockey the way they do in football or basketball.

Also, unlike the NBA—which has a similar playoff structure to the NHL—it is not out of the question for an upstart No. 7 or No. 8 seed to knock off the top teams. Back in 1994, for example, the top-seeded Red Wings got knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by the No. 8 San Jose Sharks. In 2001, the No. 2 seeded Red Wings lost in the opening round to the No. 7-seeded Los Angeles Kings.

Sadly, for Wings fans, we’re not done.

In 2003, the No. 7 seed Anaheim Mighty Ducks knocked off Detroit en route to winning the conference and coming within one game of winning the Stanley Cup. The No. 6 seed Calgary Flames upset the Presidents’ Trophy winners Detroit Red Wings in the second round of the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs. And in 2006, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Red Wings were bounced from the playoffs in the first round by a No. 8 seed: the Edmonton Oilers (who went on to win the conference).

And we’re only talking about the Red Wings history of stunning and heartbreaking upset losses in the playoffs. Last year, the Los Angeles Kings came into the playoffs a No. 8 seed and finished by hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup.

I don’t want to be the guy who says regular season records don’t matter, but they certainly don’t guarantee anything. In the 26 previous seasons, the NHL has awarded the Presidents’ Trophy, nine have made it to the Stanley Cup Finals and only six have won the Cup. The last Presidents’ Trophy winner to win the Cup? The 2005–06 Detroit Red Wings.

Game 5 between the Red Wings and Blackhawks is Saturday night. If any team is capable of stringing together three wins in a row, it’s Chicago. Detroit’s done a good job of frustrating and stymying the Chicago offense. But all it takes is one good game—sometimes, just one, good shift—to change the momentum of a series. Detroit can’t rely on another Jimmy Howard shutout if they want to put away the Blackhawks. I fully expect this one to come back to Hockeytown Monday night.

Teams have trailed 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs 229 times. Of those, 20 have come back to win the series. That’s 8.7 percent of the time. The last time was in 2010 when Philadelphia beat Boston. Before that? In 2009…when the Detroit Red Wings were up 3-1 over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals.


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