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The Globe and Mail

The problem with the Wings' winning 'record'

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, center, of Sweden, acknowledges the crowd in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Detroit, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012.

Paul Sancya/AP/Paul Sancya/AP

This morning, we dip a tentative pinkie toe into quasi-metaphysics.

All gingerly, like.

The ontological question for everyone to tug their forelock over: when is a record not really a record?

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All the sports headlines are about the fact that the Detroit Red Wings managed to tie an all-time NHL mark by winning their 20th straight home game.

The first team to pull off that long a string was Boston (1929-30) and matched by the Broad Street Bullies in 1976-77 – aka: The Good Old Days for Philly fans, and an era that has seen their team crushed by the big celestial wheel of what-comes-around-goes-around in every season since.

Except...both those teams pulled off the feat without the assistance of loser points.

The Wings, you see, have won four of their 19 straight in overtime or the shootout.

So in terms of the rules in 1976 or 1930 – in other words, ties – it would be an undefeated streak, which isn't quite the same thing as a winning streak.

And while some smarty-pants would doubtless point out that's not the Wings' doing, and that neither the Flyers nor the Bruins of yore had to contend with a salary cap or scores of midweek back-to-back games – that doesn't wash from this scribbler's point of view.

So celebrate if you must when/if the Wings beat the Dallas Stars on Tuesday in Hockeytown – as the NHL hype machine and its adjuncts will surely encourage you due with a flood of special features and Historic Occasion music.

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But you'll only be encouraging the NHL's practice of creating artificial parity by making some wins more valuable than others and rewarding some losing teams while punishing others.

You'll have guessed this is something of a sore point – and indeed, the Wings are really just a pretext to rail against the overtime point.

As the fine people here point out, were it not for hockey's answer to the participation medal, the Wings would actually be fourth in the Western conference right now – and the New Jersey Devils would be clinging desperately in eighth in the East.

The roundabout point of all of this is that the NHL has made it difficult to celebrate accomplishments in the context of hockey history – the Wings' current streak has been a lot of fun to watch, it's just not the same thing as previous streaks, and it would be nice if someone acknowledged it.

In the same way that it would be nice if they league went to the 3-2-1 system (for wins, overtime/shootout wins, and overtime/shootout losses) to calculate the standings.

As it stands, you get situations like the Montreal Canadiens', who have won four straight games, but are making up little ground on the rest of the conference – they were 10 points out of eighth when their modest streak started, they are seven points out now.

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Despite the run, the Habs still have less than a one in five chance of making the playoffs.

And where would the Devils be if the conference opponents they had defeated in their NHL-high 12 shootouts had taken two points instead of one?

The Devils have the fourth-fewest number of regulation and overtime wins in their conference, and yet they sit three points out of a home seed for the playoffs.

Yeah, yeah, this is the get-off-my-lawn curmudgeon's position – but it's a huge problem for hockey, and if we were Don Fehr, it would be something that's raised at the bargaining table, even if there's no hope of moving the needle.

All that said, here's another factoid for all the Wings fans out there: in the year they set the mark, the Bruins lost in the Stanley Cup final. And when the Flyers matched it, they were summarily bounced in four straight in the conference final.

The winning team in both seasons? The Montreal Canadiens.

So at least we know if the Wings set the new 'record' and are derailed in the playoffs this year, it will be a team other than the bleu-blanc-rouge that administers the coup de grace.

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