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Zetterberg leaving his mark in first season as captain

by Corey Masisak

ANAHEIM -- Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist were born on Sweden's west coast, in towns about 130 miles apart.

When they were developing into professional hockey prospects as teenagers, they were further apart -- Andersson was in Gothenburg with Frolunda, while Nyquist was in Malmo. Still, their experiences with consuming NHL hockey were quite similar.

Each grew up watching a lot of Detroit Red Wings games. While the "Russian Five" made Detroit an extremely popular team in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the influx of Swedish players on the roster made them a go-to team on television sets in Malmo and Stockholm, as well.

Henrik Zetterberg
Left Wing - DET
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 8
SOG: 30 | +/-: 3
"Since there are so many Swedes, probably the Swedish networks favor the Red Wings games too," Nyquist said. "It is easy for the Swedes to watch them and watch their idols to play. For sure, I watched him when I was growing up and this was my favorite team for as long as I was growing up."

The "him" Nyquist referred to is Henrik Zetterberg, who has been a fixture in the Detroit lineup since the start of the 2002-03 season. Though Nicklas Lidstrom may be the best player in the country's rich hockey history, Zetterberg is the best of a collection of Swedish forwards who have played for the Red Wings that includes Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen.

This is Zetterberg's first season as Detroit's captain, an honor that was passed from Lidstrom when he retired at the end of the 2011-12 season. It is a great situation for Andersson and Nyquist to be in -- not only are there several other Swedes on the team (Zetterberg, Franzen, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Jonas Gustavsson), but they can boast that they've played on teams with two of the top Swedish players who became captains.

"We've been looking up to him ever since we were back in Sweden," Andersson said of Zetterberg. "Both me and Nyquist -- we are lucky to be playing with him and I played a couple games last year with Nick Lidstrom. You can't just look at them as your role models. Now you're on the same team, so they're humans too."

Some organizations cycle through captains at a fairly frequent rate, but that hasn't been the case for some time in Detroit. There have been two before Zetterberg since 1986: Steve Yzerman and Lidstrom.

After nine seasons with the Red Wings, which included a Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and finalist nods for the Calder Trophy and the Selke Trophy, Zetterberg was ready to follow in the footsteps of a pair of NHL legends.

"I think we have a good group of leaders here that's been together for a while," Zetterberg said. "We've been through a good school with Steve and Nick and all the other guys -- [Chris] Chelios and [Kris] Draper and [Kirk] Maltby. I can probably name many -- [Igor] Larionov, I sat with him my first year. A lot of great players, and you learn a lot. I think it helped us when a few guys moved on and we still have our core intact, so we do the job together."

Though it is true that the Red Wings still possess a veteran core of players -- Zetterberg, Franzen, Kronwall, Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Cleary and Jimmy Howard -- and have other vets on the roster (Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson), this Detroit edition had to rely on more young players than any in a long time.

There have been injuries to key players, like forward Darren Helm. There have been injuries to players who replaced the key players, like late-season addition Danny DeKeyser.

At one point during the Western Conference Quarterfinals, Detroit coach Mike Babcock admitted the task at hand for Zetterberg in his first season as captain was not an easy one, saying Yzerman and Lidstrom "had way more help."

Yet here are the Red Wings, into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons after upsetting the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks. They will face the top seed, the rival Chicago Blackhawks, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals, on Wednesday at United Center (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).

"I think he's been outstanding, but he's always been one of those guys," Babcock said. "He's a son of a coach. Lots of really good players just do what they do and don't have any clue -- he knows what he's doing, and he knows what everyone else should be doing. He's a calm influence. He stands up for the players and for himself. He's ultra-competitive, and you know he's going to play good [in Game 7]. You just know. That to me is what leadership is about. It is not so much what you say but what you do. I think he's a great role model for our guys."

Those comments from Babcock came the morning of Game 7 against the Ducks, and sure enough Zetterberg was voted the First Star for the second straight elimination game as he helped the Red Wings rally from a 3-2 series deficit.

After having one point in the first four games against Anaheim, Zetterberg had three goals and four assists in the final three games to end the round as Detroit's leading scorer. He and Datsyuk dominated the matchup with Anaheim's top stars, which proved to be the difference.

"Great leader. First of all he's out there battling his [butt] off every day and just leading the way out there," Andersson said. "He's carrying the team, he makes plays and he scores goals. He does everything. He competes hardest of anybody on the ice most of the nights. That's the biggest part of why he's such a good leader."

If there wasn't enough pressure on Zetterberg as the player who had to be the captain after Yzerman and Lidstrom, there also was the streak. Detroit made the Stanley Cup Playoffs for 21 consecutive seasons prior to the "C" being stitched onto No. 40 Red Wings sweaters.

In part because of youth and injuries, the Red Wings were in danger of seeing that stretch of incredible success and consistency broken. After a shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks on April 20, the Red Wings were in ninth place in the Western Conference, and idle the next day they slipped to 11th.

As it turned out, the Red Wings needed at least seven of eight possible points in the final four games to finish ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets and guarantee a spot in the top eight. Zetterberg was fantastic in the final four games, totaling 10 points, including two goals and an assist against the Dallas Stars in the final game, which sealed their playoff bid.

"He's been a little more outspoken then he was in the past, but otherwise he's been the same," Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader said. "He goes about his business. He's one of the most competitive guys in the League and in hockey that I've played with, so everything is the same. When he's had to he's spoken, and he's had big games when we needed him. He's been really good for us."

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