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Lidstrom Respects Blackhawks' Speed

05/16/2009 6:55 PM

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Detroit Red Wings defenseman and captain Nicklas Lidstrom has won four Stanley Cups, six James Norris Memorial Trophies, the 2002 Conn Smythe Trophy and an Olympic gold medal in 2006, while being named to the NHL's First All-Star Team nine times.

But winning never gets old for Lidstrom, 39, who is trying to repeat as Stanley Cup champion for the second time. He was also with the Red Wings when they won the Cup in 1997, 1998 and 2002.

"You're excited about going to the conference finals and you're only one step away from playing in the Stanley Cup Finals," Lidstrom said Friday, the day after the Red Wings eliminated the Anaheim Ducks in their Western Conference Semifinal series. "That in itself brings the excitement back in our team.

"When you play a good, young team, and a fast team in the Blackhawks, you know you have to be prepared. So you have to get your emotions under control again after a big win … and prepare for a tough series again.

"I think having the experience that we have on our team, I think we're able to put the (Anaheim) series behind us and get ready for another tough one. I think this is gonna be a tough one, too."

The Red Wings host their longtime Central Division rival, the Chicago Blackhawks, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN and RDS).

Lidstrom had another strong season, posting 16 goals and 43 assists for 59 points in 78 games. He leads all defensemen in the playoffs with 11 points in 11 games, with three goals and eight assists, and he's plus-6. Only three players have averaged more ice time than Lidstrom's 26:22 minutes in the playoffs and only Carolina's Joni Pitkanen among those still playing.

After leading his team to series victories over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Anaheim Ducks, Lidstrom is looking forward to defeating the Blackhawks and playing in his sixth Stanley Cup Final. His Red Wings lost in the Final in 1995 to the New Jersey Devils.

He doesn't think it will be easy because he sees the Blackhawks as a team continuing to improve and gain confidence.

"The Blackhawks are very excited about being in the conference finals," Lidstrom said. "They beat two strong teams in the first two rounds, so we know they're feeling confident and feeling good about themselves. … They are a young and a hungry team."

The Red Wings were 4-0 against the Blackhawks after beating them, 6-4, in the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field on New Year's Day, but the season series wound up 4-2 after Chicago swept a season-ending home-and-home series. Lidstrom thinks neither the early or late results will have much bearing on a series that has to be played, not handicapped, to determine a winner.

"I don't think it's going to apply that much to what happened in the regular season," Lidstrom said. "I think us as a team, we're gonna look back at what we did well against Anaheim and in the first round against Columbus.

"We have respect for the Blackhawks. We know their team fairly well, we know their players, and we know the style they're playing. The last couple games, of course you want to win them, going into the playoffs and feeling good about yourself.

"On the other hand, we were resting a couple guys here and there just to get ready for the playoffs. Having said that, I think we're more focused on the way we've been playing in the last, you know, six weeks or so than what happened in the last couple games of the regular season."

To defeat the Blackhawks, the Red Wings must adjust to playing against a different style than the one the Ducks used.

"Facing Anaheim, they had a veteran team that they wouldn't break as a team," Lidstrom said of the 2007 Stanley Cup champions. "They just kept going after us. Being up 3-2, and (Thursday) too when the score was 2-0, we were up a couple goals and they just kept coming after us. 

Blackhawks Gear Red Wings gear"I think you're gonna see a little bit different style. The line we’ve been facing in the previous series here with Getzlaf at center, they're big guys good at hanging onto the puck down low and kinda grinding it out and trying to tire us out a little bit.

"Whereas, the young Blackhawks have the speed, great speed, and they're very skilled players. I think they're gonna come at us with a lot more speed and try to score off the rush. I think that's the big difference. Anaheim wanted to play that kinda grinding style, get the puck in behind us and kinda grind it out more than the speedy Blackhawks will."

Lidstrom said that while Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews get most of the publicity on the Blackhawks, he's also very concerned with talented players like Martin Havlat, Patrick Sharp and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.

"Havlat, even though he's had some injuries over the years, he's got that great speed and he's good at protecting the puck," Lidstrom said. "There are some similarities to the way (Marian) Hossa plays with that burst of speed he has and being able to protect the puck.

"Sharp has been playing really well against us. He's another skilled guy who has a knack for finding open areas and get a quick shot off. I know he plays well on the power play, too. Those are two players we have to be aware of, together with the young kids. Their depth is something we have to know about, too.

"When you have the goalie play the way (Khabibulin has) been playing in the playoffs, it gives the whole team confidence. I think I see their team just making strides as the season went on and just getting better and better and really playing well now when they're in the playoffs."

Author: John McGourty | Staff Writer