Nicklas Lidstrom is on the cusp of NHL history.
The Swedish defenseman would be the first European captain to win a Stanley Cup if the Detroit Red Wings get past the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It would mean a lot,” Lidstrom acknowledged on 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 as most valuable player during the 2002 finals, would break a tie with Ray Bourque if he wins a sixth Norris Trophy for being the NHL’s best defenseman as expected this summer. Bobby Orr set the mark among defensemen by winning the Norris eight times, and Doug Harvey won seven.
Those watching Lidstrom face the Sidney Crosby-led Penguins in the Stanley Cup finals, which start today, 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.”
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 defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. “He’s probably one of the greatest defensemen 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 marvelous 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 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 postseason 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 defensemen during the regular season with 70 points.
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 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,” Lidstrom said.
It’s a good thing he 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.”