DETROIT - Nicklas Lidstrom usually plays a subtle style of hockey appreciated most by coaches, players and die-hard fans.
The Detroit Red Wings defenceman's latest performance, though, was so spectacular it impressed an opponent. "Special player," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. Lidstrom scored his second goal of the game with 49.1 seconds left and had an assist, lifting the Red Wings to a 3-2 win over the Ducks on Friday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal series.
"I just get so amazed how he performs out there in a big game like this, in the last minute like that," teammate Jonathan Ericsson said. "He's so calm out there. I guess the experience speaks for itself. I get goose bumps."
Lidstrom is a finalist for the Norris Trophy.
If he is honoured as the NHL's best defenceman for the seventh time, he'll tie Doug Harvey's total and pull within one of Bobby Orr's record collection.
Despite turning 39 earlier this week, Lidstrom simply hasn't lost a step.
He started the winning play behind his net, skated up the ice, shot and scored off the rebound.
"It came off my pad and he was there all alone," Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller said. "He was patient enough to wait until I moved."
Lidstrom scored a go-ahead goal for the defending Stanley Cup champions in the second period.
He assisted on Johan Franzen's goal that tied the game in the first following Detroit's only deficit of the playoffs, drawing praise from his coach.
"He's a talented player," Detroit's Mike Babcock said. "We're lucky to have him."
Chris Osgood had 22 saves to improve to 5-0 in this year's playoffs.
Hiller stopped 34 shots for the Ducks, who got goals from Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne.
"I'm upset from the standpoint that I thought we missed an opportunity tonight," Carlyle said.
Game 2 is Sunday in Detroit.
The last two Stanley Cup champions were evenly matched, but Detroit got the best of Anaheim in the final minute of a hotly contested game.
"It's playoff hockey and there's a lot of intensity out there," Lidstrom said. "Both teams want to win real hard and that really comes out in a game like this."
Since the NHL expanded in 1967, the defending champion and the previous Cup winner are meeting in the playoffs for the third time. The others were in 1991 when the Edmonton Oilers played the Calgary Flames, and in 1971 when the Montreal Canadiens faced the Boston Bruins.
Anaheim eliminated the Red Wings two years ago in the Western Conference finals en route to the title, and the fourth postseason matchup in a decade between the teams was intense.
The fifth got bloody early.
Ducks forward Mike Brown was ejected in the first period, appearing to land an elbow to the head of defenceless Jiri Hudler.
Brown, who insisted he hit Hudler with a shoulder and his visor cut him, hopes to play in Game 2.
"I don't know if it's necessary to get that suspension," Brown said. "It was a clean hit.
"I wasn't meaning to do any harm. I was just playing physical."
The game was delayed briefly while Hudler was helped off the ice and blood was scraped off it. A towel was pressed against a big cut above Hudler's left eye.
Detroit took advantage of the power play, tying the game on Franzen's goal off Lidstrom's assist.
Lidstrom gave Detroit a 2-1 lead early in the second period with a power-play goal off a slap shot.
But the Ducks didn't go away. Selanne scored a power-play goal with 17 seconds left in the middle period.
The eighth-seeded Ducks were competitive in the third, playing four days after knocking off the top-seeded San Jose Sharks. Second-seeded Detroit was on the ice for the first time in more than a week.
Notes: Red Wings D Brian Rafalski was out with an upper-body injury and replaced by 47-year-old Chris Chelios, who played in his 261st playoff game and 24th postseason to extend his own records ahead of Patrick Roy (247) and Ray Bourque (21). ... Detroit and the Ducks have both won two series against each other. The Red Wings eliminated Anaheim en route to the 1997 Cup and in 1999. ... The Ducks beat Detroit in the 2003 playoffs with Babcock as their coach. ... Babcock (72) and Carlyle (49) have the most playoff victories and highest winning percentages since 2003.