|Nicklas Lidstrom will play in career playoff game No. 259 tonight when the Red Wings face the Predators in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarterfinal. (Photo by Dave Reginek) |
– It’s been nearly 20 years – actually a week shy of the exact date – since Nicklas Lidstrom
made his Stanley Cup playoff debut as a Red Wings’ rookie defenseman.
While it sometimes seems longer than a few decades since he experienced that first taste of playoff hockey, the messages that Lidstrom received while patrolling the blue line with such cagey veterans as the late Brad McCrimmon and Steve Chiasson, still rings true today.
“We played against Minnesota at the time and I didn’t really know what to expect,” Lidstrom said. “But my teammates were telling me it’s different than the regular-season, the intensity will pick-up, the level of play will be better, mistakes can really cost you, so it’s something that I’ve really learned from.”
The Wings put on a remarkable comeback in that series with the North Stars. Down 3-1 in the series, Detroit stormed back with three straight victories to clinch the opening round. After dropping the first two games to Minnesota, Lidstrom helped the Wings to their first win of the 1991 playoffs, scoring his first career playoff goal – a first-period tally on the power play that beat Minnesota goalie Jon Casey. (Yes, the same Jon Casey who Steve Yzerman victimized five years later in a Game 7 double-overtime thriller at Joe Louis Arena.)
The 41-year-old defenseman, who will celebrate his 42nd birthday later this month, is eight games away from catching one of his former defensive partners for the NHL’s lead in most playoff games played. Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinal series tonight in Nashville will be the 259th career playoff game for Lidstrom. Only Chris Chelios has played in more NHL postseason games than his former partner.
Still, Lidstrom’s approach, and the way he has prepared both mentally and physically for the playoffs from that first playoff game 20 years ago to No. 259 tonight is relatively the same, the seven-time Norris Trophy winner said.
“It’s a different kind of excitement,” he said. “Now you know what to expect. Back then when you were young you didn’t know what to expect. Your teammates were telling you all about it, but you didn’t know what to expect. I’m still looking forward to it and I’m still looking forward to tonight, and now I know what to expect. That helps, yeah, that helps.”
While he admits that the playoffs are saddled with a different kind of incitement, don’t expect Lidstrom to waver from his daily routines, which he prefers to keep the same and simple.
“I’m approaching it just like I do in the regular-season,” he said. “You’re eating habits don’t change and you’re doing the same things that you’re doing in the regular-season. Nothing really changes.”
There are six players on the Wings’ roster that are awaiting their Cup playoff debuts, though only forward Gustav Nyquist
is expected to make his first postseason appearance in tonight’s Game 1.
“You’re going to have your ups and downs throughout the series,” Lidstrom said. “You’re going to have to try and stay even, not to get too hyped when you’re playing well, and when you’re not playing as well find a way to get out of it, so I think you have to keep your emotions intact, that’s the most important thing. … But it’s always fun when you hit the second season, as we call it.”
Defenseman Kyle Quincey
can appreciate the nervousness and jitters that a young, inexperienced player feels when he’s thrust into his first playoff game. It happened to him five years ago when Brett Lebda went down with an injury in Game 5 of a first-round series with Calgary. Quincey was called-up from Griffins, who were in Manitoba for an AHL game.
“It was pretty nerve-racking for me playing in an elimination game right away in Calgary with the ‘C of Red’ and it was so loud and double-overtime,” Quincey said. “I just remember (Johan) Franzen’s unbelievable goal and just getting excited every time my name was called to go out there and giving it 110 percent and going a million miles per hour.”
Now that he’s back with the Wings, Quincey is thrilled at the opportunity to be back in the playoffs, after sitting out the postseason last spring with Colorado.
“The biggest thing for me is just getting another chance to win,” he said. “Anytime you get a chance to play, I remember how exciting it was to be playing San Jose when I was in Colorado, it’s just fun being a part of the dance. I’m here again and I’m so excited.”
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