Top 24 moments from the Detroit Red Wings' amazing playoff run

The streak is referenced so casually in hockey circles that it is taken for granted much more than it should be.

The Detroit Red Wings will have more than just a trip to the playoffs on the line as their regular season finishes in New York against the Rangers on Saturday. They have history to make.

Get in, and it will mark the franchise's 25th consecutive postseason appearance. It's the longest active playoff streak in professional sports and it would pull the Red Wings even with the St. Louis Blues (1980-2004) for the third-longest run in NHL history.

It's absolutely remarkable. But while Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill is in the middle of the daily fight to keep it going and feels the pressure of those 24 seasons on his shoulders -- "We take that seriously," Blashill said -- he sees an extension of the streak as a chance to play for the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup.

To truly appreciate the Red Wings' run, it helps to have some separation from it. "Looking back at the streak now, it's unbelievable in today's sports," Red Wings legend Nicklas Lidstrom wrote via email. "A lot of teams have had a chance to rebuild and pick early in the draft and build the team from scratch while the Wings haven't had that chance. [They are] still able to put a competitive product on the ice and go deep into the playoffs."

In the spirit of not taking it for granted, here are 24 of the most memorable moments from the Red Wings' playoff streak:

1. Bringing the Stanley Cup back to Detroit

Given that they've won four Stanley Cups during this playoff streak, it's easy to forget that there were times when people wondered if the Red Wings would ever win the big one again. Then, in 1997, the Red Wings swept the Philadelphia Flyers to win their first Stanley Cup since 1955.

"I remember being anxious to get my hands on the Cup," Lidstrom said. "It'd been a long wait for the city of Detroit. There was a lot of talk about having not won it. That feeling of finally winning it ... it was great to win that first Cup at home in front of our home fans."

2. Darren McCarty's Game 4-winning goal in 1997

McCarty remains a legend in Detroit mostly because it was his incredible goal against the Flyers that clinched it. The big man took on Janne Niinimaa, beat him with a great move before going backhand to forehand on Ron Hextall to give the Red Wings a 2-0 lead. And, at about that moment, the party started in Detroit.

3. The 1997 Stanley Cup parade

An estimated one million fans filled downtown Detroit as the Red Wings celebrated the return of the Stanley Cup to Hockeytown. The celebration included a rally in Hart Plaza and a two-hour parade down Woodward Avenue. Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch took to a podium and proudly exclaimed that there were more Red Wings fans packed into downtown Detroit than there were in the entire NHL.

"I didn't think anything could top Saturday night," captain Steve Yzerman said that day. "But I've got to tell you, coming down Woodward Avenue today was the icing on the cake. I'll never forget it."

4. The limo accident

Less than one week after they reached the pinnacle of hockey, the Red Wings suffered one of the biggest tragedies in franchise history when a limo accident caused severe head injuries to massage therapist Sergei Mnatsakanov and defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov, while also injuring defenseman Slava Fetisov. A summer of potential celebration turned into one of sadness and recovery, as Konstantinov spent several weeks in a coma.

5. Out of tragedy comes inspiration

Winning it all in 1997 erased decades of frustration, but following that up with another Stanley Cup in 1998 gave the Red Wings a chance to honor the teammates who had been hurt in the crash. After sweeping the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup finals, the injured Konstantinov was brought out on the ice in a wheelchair to be a part of the celebration. "This is so emotional. It's great," Igor Larionov said that night while giving Konstantinov a victory lap around Washington's MCI Center. "This is for Vladdy and Sergei."

6. "I just coached my last game"

In 2002, an absolutely loaded Red Wings team won the Stanley Cup for the 10th time in franchise history. This roster was stacked with future Hall of Famers, including Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Brett Hull, Igor Larionov, Luc Robitaille, Brendan Shanahan, Chris Chelios, Nicklas Lidstrom and Dominik Hasek. But it was coach Scotty Bowman who made the biggest impression, lacing up his skates to do a lap with the Stanley Cup raised over his head and then letting everyone know he was done behind the bench. Bowman finished his career with more regular-season wins, playoffs wins and Stanley Cups than any coach in NHL history.

"Scotty was intense as a coach," Lidstrom said. "He was very smart as a coach, very knowledgeable about the game and how to coach in different situations. He got the most out of every player and got players to accept their roles."

7. The Wings hire Mike Babcock

After two seasons under coach Dave Lewis, the Red Wings opted not to renew his contract. Instead, in 2005, they turned to the 42-year-old Babcock, who had led the Anaheim Ducks to the 2002-03 Stanley Cup finals. The Red Wings took a chance on a guy who had a 69-76-19 record with the Ducks, but it ended up being a brilliant hire, one that would keep the Red Wings in contention for the next decade.

8. Steve Yzerman retires

In 2006, the captain hung up his skates. Worn down by an assortment of injuries, including major knee surgery that cut short his 2002-03 season, Yzerman called it quits. He retired as the sixth-most proficient point scorer in NHL history. Along the way, he had won three Stanley Cups, an Olympic gold medal and a permanent spot in the hearts of Detroit sports fans.

9. The captaincy passes from Yzerman to Lidstrom

Following one of the best captains in the history of the game isn't an easy assignment, but for the Red Wings, choosing Lidstrom as Yzerman's successor was a simple choice. Lidstrom was the epitome of class and leadership.

"When Steve told me he was going to retire, certainly Steve gave [Lidstrom] a strong endorsement," Red Wings GM Ken Holland said. "I talked to Mike Babcock, and between Steve's endorsement, what he meant to the team, his status in the league and the respect he had from his teammates, I don't even think we had another conversation. Everybody in the organization just accepted that Nick was going to be the next captain of the Red Wings. It was just that much of a no-brainer."

10. "Nick Lidstrom, come get the Stanley Cup"

When commissioner Gary Bettman handed the Stanley Cup to Lidstrom after the Red Wings beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games during the 2008 Stanley Cup finals, it was the first time a European-born captain had raised the hallowed trophy.

"I was excited and honored to follow in Stevie's footsteps, and it's something I was very proud of, that I was able to win a Cup," Lidstrom said. "We had a lot of European players and a lot of good players, playing well together."

11. Fleury's save on Lidstrom

In 2009, the Red Wings made a bid to become the first team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups during the salary-cap era when they went the distance with the Penguins in the Stanley Cup finals. It was a classic series that came down to the final seconds -- and even then, it looked like the Red Wings might force overtime when it appeared that Lidstrom had Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury beat. He didn't.

"I just decided to get my body out there, and it hit me in the ribs," Fleury told the Windsor Star in 2009.

12. The hit that ignited a rivalry

In Game 3 of the 1996 Western Conference finals, a hit on Adam Foote by Slava Kozlov left Foote bloodied and in need of 20 stitches to close the cut. Five days later came the memorable hit from behind on Kris Draper by Claude Lemieux that gets blood boiling in Detroit to this day. Draper suffered a broken cheekbone, jaw and nose. For a time he had to drink and eat through a straw. For years, fights and brawls would mark the most intense rivalry in hockey during that era. Even the post-series handshake line, a hockey tradition, was done with clenched teeth.

13. The goalie fights

Some memories must be watched.

14. The Russian Five is born

On Oct. 27, 1995, Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Slava Kozlov, Vladimir Konstantinov and Slava Fetisov were put on the ice together for the first time in a game against the Calgary Flames -- and history was made. Coach Scotty Bowman was smart about it. He'd mix in his Russian stars with other players, but late in the game, when the Red Wings needed the spark the most, the Russian Five often found themselves united on the ice. It was a thing of beauty, as the Russian players mixed speed, skill and puck possession in a manner that worked its way permanently into Detroit's DNA.

"They didn't just play hockey," Bowman told NHL.com. "They created masterpieces on the ice."

15. Hurricanes sign Sergei Fedorov

The Avs weren't the only rivals with whom the Red Wings had to wrestle. Owner Mike Ilitch and Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos had their own rivalry. It reached new heights when Karmanos signed Fedorov to a six-year contract in 1988 worth $38 million, including a $12 million poison pill that was to be paid if Fedorov's team reached the conference finals, something the Hurricanes weren't likely to do.

"I'm still proud of the creativity we put in that," Karmanos told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun in November.

16. Red Wings trade for Chris Chelios

A few hours before the 1999 trade deadline, the Red Wings landed defenseman Chris Chelios from one of their biggest rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks. The deal cost the Red Wings Anders Eriksson and two-first round picks.

"I went to Bob Murray a month, two months before, and Chicago was struggling. I said, 'Would you trade Chelios?'" Holland said. "He said, 'No chance.' The night before the trade deadline, he called and said, 'Things have changed. Are you still interested?' I said yeah. They had to go to Chelios. Chelios had that year and one more to go on a contract, and we did a two-year extension. We had him that year and three additional full seasons. I thought that would be it. I think I did about five more contracts with him."

17. Pavel Datsyuk drafted in sixth round

How do you stay on top for so long? Fantastic drafting and a little luck. The Red Wings would be the first to tell you that. Had they known Datsyuk would become the superstar he did, they wouldn't have waited until the 171th overall pick to grab him in 1998. After drafting Jiri Fischer in Round 1, Detroit picked Ryan Barnes, Tomek Valtonen, Jake McCracken, Brent Hobday, Carl Steen and Adam DeLeeuw before selecting Datsyuk. Datsyuk would go on to win two Stanley Cups with the Red Wings, as well as three Selke Trophies and four Lady Byngs.

18. Lidstrom wins his seventh Norris

It might have taken a while for the hockey world to realize Lidstrom's subtle greatness, but once it did, he became a Norris Trophy regular, winning his final Norris at the age of 41 in 2011.

"He should have won more than seven," his longtime agent Don Meehan said. "He really should have. I think he won his first Norris at the age of 30, which is amazing. ... In one of those years [that] Nick was runner-up, Scotty Bowman said, 'It doesn't matter what these people say. I know who the best defenseman in the game is.'"

19. Sharks shock the Red Wings

When you make the playoffs as often as the Red Wings have over the years, not every memory is a pleasant one. Few were as painful as the 1994 playoffs. Detroit had the best record in the West and the reward was a first-round series against the No. 8-seeded San Jose Sharks. It turned out to be a nightmare, as the Sharks upset the Red Wings in seven games. Jamie Baker's goal in the third period of Game 7 propelled San Jose to its first series win in franchise history and one of the biggest playoff upsets in recent memory.

"We were playing for our playoff lives all season while Detroit cruised to the top spot in the West," Baker said. "Our goal going into the series was to keep the games close heading into the third period. It was our comfort zone. In Game 7, score tied 2-2, Detroit turned the puck over at the blue line. That led us to a transition play, dumped the puck in and the rest is history."

20. The Oilers do too

OK, this is a celebration, so we don't want to harp on the negatives. We won't even give the Anaheim Ducks' Jean-Sebastien Giguere-fueled sweep over Detroit in 2003 its own number. But in terms of memorable moments, it's hard to overlook the Edmonton Oilers coming in as the No. 8 seed and beating the Presidents' Trophy-winning Red Wings in the 2006 playoffs, the first postseason after the lockout. It was the start of a great postseason run for Ryan Smyth and the Oilers that spring.

21. Steve Yzerman's double-OT goal

It didn't lead to a Stanley Cup, but this might be the most memorable goal of the entire streak. The Red Wings were embroiled in double overtime in Game 7 of an epic Western Conference semifinals series against Brett Hull and the St. Louis Blues. Wayne Gretzky nearly forced a turnover for the Blues, but the puck bounced off his stick and found its way to Yzerman, who picked up the puck and gained speed at center ice. He wound up and ripped a shot as he crossed the blue line and beat Jon Casey, ending the game -- and the series. The Red Wings piled on their captain as they celebrated on the ice. That game was the fifth of the series decided by one goal.

22. Hossa handpicks the Red Wings

All the success has made the Red Wings an appealing destination over the years, but Marian Hossa's decision to take a discounted one-year deal to play in Detroit in 2008 was one of the most shocking free-agent decisions of the past decade.

"Everyone hears about the Big Red Machine. It was very appealing for Marian to play with Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk," said Hossa's agent, Ritch Winter, who oversaw the deal. "One year was what Marian wanted, and he wanted to try the Red Wings first. When I called Kenny Holland, he was getting gas. He said he almost pulled the gasoline nozzle out of the car and sprayed the neighbor."

Hossa went on to score 40 goals that season for the Red Wings but fell one win short of his first Stanley Cup.

23. Dylan Larkin makes the All-Star team at 19

For the Red Wings' sustained success to continue, another generation of stars take the baton from Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Larkin has emerged as one of those stars. He was Detroit's lone representative at the All-Star game earlier this season in Nashville and turned heads with his record-breaking win in the fastest skater competition.

24. Red Wings hire Scotty Bowman

When he arrived in Detroit in 1994, Bowman already had a record 971 NHL wins and six Stanley Cups. The Red Wings had been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the year before, and Ilitch had seen enough. This was Ilitch at his best -- he wanted to win, so he went out and hired the best.

"I took a look at hockey history and at sports history," Ilitch told the AP at the time. "Something dawned on me. There seems to be a pattern. People who win continuously win. The same people win, over and over. So when I was looking for a coach, I went looking for somebody who has won, who knows how to win."

He won. And his legacy remains a part of the culture of the Red Wings, one steeped in consistent, sustained success.