The once-longest active playoff appearance streak ended earlier this year when the Detroit Red Wings finished with just 79 points, tied for sixth-fewest in the NHL this season. It was their lowest point total in a minimum 80-game season since the first year of the playoff streak, the 1990-91 season.
Red Wings fans have been in uncharted waters over the last month or so, having to sit and watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs and not see the winged wheel out there. This has left not only the team to game plan the off-season a bit sooner, but also left fans thinking which direction(s) the organization will go, regarding the future.
If there is something fans can hang their hat on, they can just look down into the minors and see Detroit's two affiliates — the Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL) and Toledo Walleye (ECHL) — still playing into May and very much serious contenders for league championships.
This is familiar grounds for the Griffins in recent years. It's their fifth consecutive season participating in the American Hockey League postseason, where they've totaled at least 90 points in the season during that span and won at least one playoff series; it's also the 10th time in 15 seasons as a part of the AHL. This particular five-year stint began back in the 2012-13 season, when they won their first ever Calder Cup.
This year, Grand Rapids racked up 100 points and finished second in Central Division, sixth overall in the AHL. Since then, they have swept the Milwaukee Admirals (AHL affiliate for the Nashville Predators) in a best-of-five series, and currently hold a 3-1 series lead over the Chicago Wolves (Blues), who edged the Griffs by a single point in the Central Division standings.
So who's been getting it done for the Griffins this season? A pair of veterans (use it loosely) have led G.R. in scoring — forwards Matt Lorito and Ben Street. Lorito, 26, led the team in points (56) and assists (34) in the regular season, and has 6 points (2 G, 4 A) in the playoffs so far. Right behind him is Street, 30, who led the Griffins with 25 goals and tallied 55 points in the regular season. Street has also potted a pair of goals so far in the playoffs.
Detroit's top prospect Evgeny Svechnikov, who had a cup of coffee with the Red Wings late in the regular season, was third on the Griffins in points (20 G, 31 A) in his first full season with Detroit's AHL affiliate. He too has two goals this postseason.
As for the Toledo Walleye, they've been a well-oiled machine in the ECHL for the last few seasons. After finishing the regular season with 106 points — most in the league and second time in three years they have done that — and collecting a third straight division title, they find themselves in the conference finals of the ECHL playoffs.
Their road has been a bit more difficult than that of the Griffins, however. They needed all seven games in a first-round series to close out the Kalamazoo Wings (CBJ), a former affiliate of Detroit. They bounced back in the second round and took care of the Fort Wayne Komets (ind.) in five games. And as of Friday night, they currently hold a 1-0 series lead over the Colorado Eagles (COL).
The Walleye were a potent group offensively all season long, but they were led by a trio of guys when it came to scoring and facilitating. Forward Shane Berschbach paced the club with 86 points, good for third in the entire league, and his 68 helpers were second overall. The Clawson, MI native and former Western Michigan Bronco turns 26 next Friday, May 19.
Then there's the Spink Brothers, twins Tylor and Tyson. Younger brother Tylor (76 PTS / 28 G, 48 A) bested older brother Tyson (75 PTS / 33 G, 42 A) in the scoring department during the regular season. But the elder Tyson has one-upped him in the ECHL ‘second season' as he has 15 playoff points, tied for the team lead.
It's the first full season as a member of the Toledo Walleye for the Canadian-born twins and Colgate University grads, who do not turn 25 years old until New Year's Eve.
So if you're a “glass half full” person and looking for a silver lining, then you have to be encouraged about the success of the Red Wings' farm system. Whether that translates to success for any of the players in the future with Detroit remains to be seen.
As far as scheduling is concerned for both the Griffins and Walleye:
- Grand Rapids Griffins (Lead CHI 3-1 in Conference Semifinals)
- Game 5: Saturday, May 13 @ CHI | 7 p.m. ET
- Game 6: Monday, May 15 @ GR | 7 p.m. ET (if necessary)
- Game 7: Tuesday, May 16 @ CHI | 7 p.m. ET (if necessary)
- **Games can be seen on AHL Live online**
- Toledo Walleye (Lead COL 1-0 in Conference Finals)
- Game 2: Saturday, May 13 @ TOL | 7:35 p.m. ET
- Game 3: Wednesday, 17 @ COL | 7:05 p.m. ET
- Game 4: Friday, May 19 @ COL | 7:05 p.m. ET
- Game 5: Saturday, May 20 @ COL | 7:05 p.m ET (if necessary)
- Game 6: Monday, May 22 @ TOL | 7:35 p.m. ET (if necessary)
- Game 7: Wednesday, May 24 @ TOL | 7:35 p.m. ET (if necessary)
- **Games can be seen on ECHL Live online**