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Wings' Lidstrom has a shot at hockey history

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The Canadian Press
5/22/2008 7:50:14 PM
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DETROIT - Nicklas Lidstrom is on the cusp of hockey history.

The Swedish defenceman would be the first European captain to win a Stanley Cup if the Detroit Red Wings get past Pittsburgh.

"It would mean a lot," Lidstrom acknowledged Thursday. "But it's still secondary to being able to win the Cup again and getting another ring."

The three-time champion, who became the first European to win a Conn Smythe Trophy during the 2002 finals, would break a tie with Ray Bourque if he wins a sixth Norris Trophy as expected this summer. Bobby Orr set the mark among defencemen by winning the Norris eight times, and Doug Harvey won seven.

Those tuning in to watch Lidstrom face the Sidney Crosby-led Penguins in the Stanley Cup finals, which start Saturday night, might not be awed by his greatness.

Like a world-class referee, Lidstrom rarely makes a mistake - so he tends to get overlooked.

"To appreciate the subtleties of how talented and consistent he is, you have to watch him every day," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "He's not about flashy. He's about substance."

The six-foot-one, 189-pound Lidstrom beats teams with his intelligence and instincts, a wicked combination that puts him in the right place to make a play or prevent one.

"He's always pretty much in a perfect position," Pittsburgh defenceman Sergei Gonchar said. "He's probably one of the greatest defencemen ever to play the game."

Former Red Wing Mickey Redmond said there's a reason casual fans usually don't make the same assessment.

"Nick doesn't get the credit or recognition he deserves because he plays the game without being physical. Doug Harvey was a lot like that," Redmond said. "When you have a marvellous mind, you can keep yourself out of trouble and avoid getting hurt."

Lidstrom has played in nearly 1,500 games since making his NHL debut in 1991. He missed a career-high six straight games earlier this season because of a knee injury, making rare appearances on the list of scratches.

Lidstrom broke Steve Yzerman's team records this year by playing in his 16th straight post-season and his 197th playoff game. He later played in his 201st playoff game, surpassing Jari Kurri's NHL mark among European players.

The 38-year-old Lidstrom is productive when he plays, too. He led all league defenceman during the regular season with 70 points and a plus-40 rating.

Lidstrom has scored twice, and added seven assists and countless plays defensively in the playoffs to help the Red Wings reach the Stanley Cup finals for the fifth time in his career. His plus-8 rating is among the best in the post-season.

Now, Lidstrom is about to face one of his toughest tests.

Pittsburgh's collection of offensive firepower - led by Crosby and Evgeni Malkin - might be the best on the planet.

"They're tremendously skilled players," Lidstrom said, "that can do a lot of things on their own with the puck, whether it's coming down on the rush or waiting for the open player."

Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall said Lidstrom clearly will be the best player on the ice - with all due respect to the dynamic duos of Crosby and Malkin along with Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

"I'll take Nick over anybody," Kronwall said.

As talented as Crosby and Malkin are, Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood also wouldn't bet against Lidstrom having success in the series after watching him match up with former superstars such as Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull.

"He's always been able to shut down the best player on a pretty regular basis," said Osgood, who teamed with Lidstrom to win the 1998 Stanley Cup. "I'm pretty confident Nick will be able to do a good job. He's played against Lemieux and guys like Gretzky and Hull. I think he looks forward to it. He's not going to come out and say it. He's not a loud guy."

That's an understatement.

Lidstrom might be one of the most soft-spoken stars in any sport, politely answering questions quietly without ever uttering a quote that will be posted on a bulletin board or splashed across a website.

When Yzerman's 22-season reign ended with the Red Wings in 2005, Lidstrom assumed the role as captain for the storied franchise. He did not, however, become the face or voice of the team.

"It's not what he says, but what he does," Babcock said. "The modelling of doing things right that he sets for the whole team is the best I've ever seen by far."

It's a good thing Lidstrom didn't stick to Plan A back home.

"I finished school in Sweden when I was 20 to become an engineer, but I didn't fulfill the course because I came here instead," Lidstrom said. "If I stayed in Sweden and did more studying, I would've become an engineer.

"I like the decision I made."

Nicklas Lidstrom (Photo: John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
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