The last time a Stanley Cup postseason opened without the Red Wings, George H.W. Bush was president of the United States, "Love Will Lead You Back" by Taylor Dayne topped the music charts and Detroit's roster included veteran winger Jim Nill and a 24-year-old Steve Yzerman, both of whom now manage the front offices in Dallas and Tampa Bay.
Those Red Wings endured a season to forget, third-worst in the NHL, but it laid the foundation for a quarter century of arguably the greatest run in modern pro sports.
That era officially came to an end Tuesday when a 4-1 loss to the Hurricanes, combined with wins by Toronto and Boston, mathematically eliminated Detroit from playoff contention.
The season included both highs (look no further than the development of Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou) and lows (goaltending, anyone?), but the fate of the franchise was mostly a foregone conclusion with the young Red Wings holding down last place in the Atlantic much of the second half of the season. That it coincides with a swan song for hockey cathedral that was Joe Louis Arena adds to the sting.
But this is more about reflecting on the remarkable run that was.
The Red Wings’ playoff streak was the longest active in any of the four major professional North American sports. That honor now belongs to the NBA’s Spurs, who are about to embark on their 21st consecutive postseason. The Penguins inherit the longest active streak in the NHL, going on 11 years running.
The Bruins hold the NHL record for consecutive playoff berths spanning 29 seasons, from 1968-1996. They won the Stanley Cup twice during that streak, in 1970 and 1972. The Blackhawks are the only other team in pro sports history with a streak longer than Detroit's, qualifying for 28 consecutive postseason trips from 1970-97.
That's it. No other franchises in the NBA, NFL, MLB or otherwise have surpassed 25.
To fully appreciate the Red Wings' run, consider the era in which it occurred.
Since the 1990-91 season, Detroit has gone through five head coaches, three general managers and three captains. A different goalie manned the net for three of the third four Stanley Cup championships during the streak, and thanks in part to the introduction of the salary cap in 2006, eight different players led the team in regular season scoring.
Oh, and they haven't drafted in the top 10 since 1991.
It's possible all of professional sports, let alone the NHL, never again will bare witness to the excellence required to sustain such success.
Or maybe the Red Wings, still armed with a strong prospects stable and a renowned front office, will merely start anew.