|Henrik Zetterberg's two goals and four assists enabled him to break a club record of 24 points previously shared by Sergei Fedorov and Steve Yzerman. Henrik Zetterberg video|
Too small. Too this. Too that. That's what scouts said of the skinny kid from Njurunda, Sweden. He paid the price back then by having to wait until the seventh round before the Detroit Red Wings picked him with the 210th pick in the 1999 Entry Draft. Heck, for six weeks when he was 17, Zetterberg, wondering about his hockey future, actually took a part-time job cleaning lanes at a bowling alley.
But after getting a chance to lift the Stanley Cup in celebration Wednesday night at Mellon Arena following Detroit's 3-2 victory and its first NHL championship since 2002 and fourth in the last 11 seasons, Zetterberg saw all of his emotions gush out after a game in which he had one goal and one assist, six shots and two hits. His pass, made while he was being taken to the ice, set up Brian Rafalski for the game's first goal at 5:03 on a power play and gave the team a quick start. His goal 7:36 into the third period turned out to be the Cup winner.
Zetterberg's two goals and four assists in the six-game final series gave him 27 points in the playoffs. That enabled him to break a club record of 24 points previously shared by Sergei Fedorov (1995) and Steve Yzerman (1998) and tied him with Sidney Crosby for the most in the Playoffs. He went home with the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP.
"He can pass and he can shoot at an elite level. That's what makes him so difficult to stop, because you don’t know what he’s going to do," teammate and fellow Swede Nicklas Lidstrom said. "Seeing that kind of skill coming at you again and again makes defenders back off and creates openings for his teammates."
But the brilliance of Zetterberg is that he can do so many things to help the Red Wings win: one goal, eight shots, one hit, one blocked shot in Game 1; one assist, six shots, one takeaway, one blocked shot in Game 2; three shots, one blocked shot in Game 3; two shots, one takeaway, two blocked shots in Game 4; two assists, seven shots, two takeaways in Game 5.
"The first thing on my mind is that great players aren't judged on one play, one series or even one full season or career performance. It's all about lifting the Stanley Cup. That's all that I really wanted since I saw my first Stanley Cup Final when I was 13 or 14. When I saw the greatest players in the world celebrate winning by raising the Cup high into the air, I knew it was something I wanted to do," Zetterberg excitedly explained in front of a horde of reporters. "To me, this is a defining moment for anyone who strives to be the best. And doing it with this group of guys, battling through four series, has been real special."
"Henrik, he's a complete player," Red Wings GM Ken Holland said. "He's got great hands, great instincts, he's great in traffic and he really sees the ice well. Over the years I've seen a lot of great players who don't work hard enough to be better. I always tell our scouts, 'Tell me when a smaller guy shows you he can do it and when a bigger guy shows you he can't. It’s clear Henrik always plays bigger than his size."
Still, it was another side of this brilliant center's game that was just as important: For most of the six-game series, Zetterberg was playing head-up against Sidney Crosby, who was not nearly as productive as he had been earlier in the Playoffs. The exclamation point in the series for Zetterberg came during a tense 86-second span late in the third period of Game 4 with Detroit holding on to a 2-1 lead and the Penguins pressing to tie the game and the series.
In those important seconds, Zetterberg made three individual plays, the kind that don't show up on a score sheet – none more crucial than what looked like a sure goal by Crosby, who was waiting to push the puck into the net while stationed at the edge of the goal crease. Instead, Zetterberg first reached to get his stick on the cross-crease pass and then used some of his soccer upbringing to kick it out of harm's way. In that same brilliant sequence, Zetterberg blocked a shot and lugged the puck into the Pittsburgh zone, killing more than 15 seconds of valuable time.
"I knew the importance of that PK," Zetterberg said, with particular emphasis on that in retrospect after the series. "I knew who was out on the ice for them. It was our job to keep them from getting a good shot on goal. It was up to me to do my job."
He did it like a shutdown cornerback in the NFL or a great defensive catcher blocking the plate to prevent the tying run from scoring in the bottom of the ninth.
"The game was in the balance and Z went out there and single-handedly killed it off," gushed teammate Dan Cleary.
"It was interesting. I was thinking of lacrosse at that time," coach Mike Babcock said after that game. "I always hear my son's coach yelling when they're shorthanded 'get a hold of it and hang onto it.' That's what he was doing."
Just another part of the all-round game that makes Zetterberg so great, right coach?
"I've been telling people for three years how good Zetterberg is," Babcock continued. "And so this isn't a surprise to me. He's just a conscientious good two-way player."
"He's so good at reading plays, anticipating where the puck is going," Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "He makes it tough for them to find passing lanes and find someone open. He fills the lanes, blocks shots and then when he gets the puck he can hang onto it too, like he did for 10-15 seconds."
Not many NHL stars can play the two-way game that Zetterberg and linemate Pavel Datsyuk can.
"Before this series began, I looked at them and remembered that Zetterberg and Datsyuk were both up for the Selke Trophy (honoring the best defensive forward in the NHL)," said Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, expressing a little reluctance to praise their defensive talent. "But then to see them against guys like Sid (Crosby) and Geno (Malkin) and you can see just how good they are both ways.
"With Zetterberg, he's really patient and strong stick and protects the puck so well. He's the kind of hockey player you appreciate because of how hard he works for the team, offensively and defensively."
It's that kind of effort that makes Zetterberg special, even to his own teammates.
"That's where he stands out from other superstars in this league," Johan Franzen said. "He can play so well in his own end, he can play on a 3 on 5. You don't see other superstars do that, not a lot of them, anyway. That's what makes him so special."
To give you an idea of how Zetterberg dominated offensively before this series, consider that he had five goals and three assists in Detroit's four-game sweep of Colorado in the second round of the Playoffs. He followed that with four goals and four assists in six games against Dallas.
"He's got such a strong stick," Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis added. "You can't take the puck away from him."
One of the other things Zetterberg remembered in retrospect after the Cup victory was his first real battle on the world stage against NHL competition.
"I remember going on the ice for the first time to take a faceoff at the Olympics in Salt Lake City and when I looked up, there was Eric Lindros standing across from me," Zetterberg said. "I must have been giving him five inches and about 40 pounds in that matchup. That opened my eyes. It gave me something to work on before I played my first game in the NHL the next season. I knew I had to get bigger and stronger."
"I just missed the Red Wings’ Stanley Cup run in 2002," he said, explaining how he and Niklas Kronwall were brought in to watch two games but did not play. "I had been hoping I could find a place right there at the top with the Olympics for a chance to lift the Stanley Cup in victory. I've got that now ..."
He smiled for a second and then added wistfully, "The only thing left is for me to win a Swedish Elite League title. But that will come sometime after I'm finished winning a couple more of these, I hope."
When watching Zetterberg, you quickly notice the hands, the quick feet, the ability to create while at top speed, the instincts. But what stands out most is Zetterberg's consistency, strength and work ethic.
"You're never going to outwork Hank, that's for sure," Babcock said.
Not when Zetterberg had this little job of lifting the Stanley Cup that he dreamed of raising a long time ago back in Sweden.