Niklas Kronwall with six-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom. But I think we can all agree that they both make a mighty big impact.DETROIT -- No one could possibly confuse
It was Kronwall who stepped into Chicago winger Martin Havlat, exploding into him and knocking him backward to the ice and into Never-Never Land 13 minutes into the first period of Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. Kronwall was ejected from the game for the hit and had Blackhawks fans declare him Public Enemy No. 1.
And it was the same Swedish defenseman who helped pick up the slack when Lidstrom was a no-go with a lower-body injury for Game 4 -- contributing two assists in 23:16, with three shots and two blocked shots. Ironically, the 28-year-old native of Stockholm had zero hits in helping the Detroit Red Wings win 6-1 and gain a 3-1 lead in the series. But he clearly wasn't under the radar. He rarely is.
"I firmly believe there's often a momentum change in the game when a player delivers a big hit ... just like there is with a big goal," Kronwall said. "Sometimes I think getting a big hit is better than getting a goal. In fact, I love it when someone comes up to me afterward and asks about a particular hit."
It's clear that every player possesses certain skills and loves to show them off. In Kronwall's case, there's more than just a hitman involved.
"He's a threat for us back there both physically and skill-wise -- a lot like Vladdy (former Wings defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov) was," Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood says. "He makes a big hit and sends a message, makes the other team think about where he is."
Sort of a silent assassin? You bet. But there's so much more that fascinates about Niklas Kronwall.
For starters, his name was spelled “Kronvall” in all of the NHL's publications -- until he won a Stanley Cup last year -- primarily because there was a mistake on his visa when he came to North America for the first time in 2003. Another oversight: Nik being overlooked for the 2006 Olympics until Vancouver's Mattias Ohlund was sidelined with an injury -- and then in Sweden's gold-medal victory he scored a goal.
It should come as no surprise that Lidstrom was the player Kronwall watched when he was growing up in Stockholm and playing for Djurgarden in the Swedish Elite League. It should also be pointed out, however, that he was also fascinated growing up by some of those Don Cherry “Rock'em Sock'em” videos, especially when he saw Scott Stevens laying someone out.
"I still love to go back and watch the videos of Scott Stevens and guys like that," Kronwall said with a big smile. "My eyes still light up when I see a guy kind of coasting into an open area just asking to be hit. To me, that's one of the best parts of the game."
"Yeah, yeah, I know I'm not the biggest guy in the world," the 6-foot, 189-pound defenseman added. "I have never thought that hitting is about size. It's all about timing. Opposing players' size has never limited me on the ice."
And there's something to one of those big hits that sparks the entire bench.
Kronwall shared the Red Wings hits lead in the playoffs going into Game 5 Wednesday with 38 apiece.
Smart, rugged, composed with the puck, and -- as Game 4 demonstrated -- disciplined, to the point where Blackhawks players kept trying to take his head off, or at least goad him into a fight, and he kept turning the other cheek or just skating away from the scrums.
He had to be out there, playing more minutes than any Red Wing except for Stuart because of the absence of Lidstrom.
"He's a sneaky hitter," said teammate Henrik Zetterberg. "You look up and he's standing still, but suddenly he sees an opening and BOOM! You've got to beware. I had some close calls with him when we were both in the Swedish Elite League. He just has good timing and he knows when to step up. I'm glad he's on my side."
Said coach Mike Babcock: "He's kind of like a predator."
It's that make-my-day mentality that keeps Niklas Kronwall on the radar. And much, much more.