Lidstrom and Red Wings Ready to Take Flight Against Rival Blackhawks

Derek HarmsworthSenior Writer IMay 15, 2009

DETROIT - MAY 01:  Nicklas Lidstrom #5 of the Detroit Red Wings tuns up ice with the puck while playing the Anaheim Ducks in Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 1, 2009 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 3-2 to take a 1-0 series lead.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom has been here before. 

In fact it was around this same time last year, that Lidstrom and the Wings were getting set to kick off the Western Conference set against the Dallas Stars.  And while, another year brings another Conference Finals, this one is different.

This one, is against the Chicago Blackhawks.  

A young team, and a division rival, Lidstrom knows the Blackhawks are not to be taken lightly, in spite of their lack of post season experience. 

"You know, they're excited, and they should be," he said. "They have beaten two pretty good teams to get here and they're feeling confident.  It's a different team than we faced in Anaheim for sure, but it's a team who is young and very hungry."

Lidstrom said that despite the toll of a tough even-game series against Anaheim, it's time to put it behind them and get back to work. 

"Chicago has a different style than Anaheim, especially their top guys," he said. "With the Ducks, they want to lean on you, put the puck behind you and grind.  With Chicago it's more about speed and skill.  Chicago likes to score off the rush and use their speed, which is something we have to be aware of."

Detroit won the first four games of the regular season series quite easily, including the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in Chicago.  Still, the six-time Norris Trophy winner says that won't have much of an impact on this series. 

"We respect Chicago for sure" Lidstrom said. "They got to us and beat us the last couple games of the season, but we were resting some guys and such.  They're a team that has improved all year.  As the year has gone on, they have continued to get better and better, and grow as a team. 

"The experience at Wrigley was a great one for both of us, for a number of different reasons."

It was seen by many at the time as a young Chicago team being exposed as not-quite ready for prime time.  The Hawks have the chance to erase those thoughts in the Western Conference Finals, which begin Sunday in Detroit.

When talk shifted to the NHL playoffs in general, Lidstrom, unquestionably a face of the game today, applauded his fellow players for the way this year's post season has gone. 

"I think the playoffs have been really exciting this year," he said. "I don't get the chance obviously to watch every game, but what I seen has been very good.  Lots of overtimes, plus they had Crosby versus Ovechkin, which was great. 

"I think overall it has been a big success.  When the top teams, like San Jose and Boston get put out, it makes things exciting and definitely shows that the parity is here."

A few things Lidstrom omitted however, as modest as he is, was the exciting series the Wings had just finished with the Ducks—a seven-game thriller in which the Wings took the lead with a little more than three minutes remaining in final the game.

When the question is posed to Lidstrom how a veteran team like the Wings can turn around so fast after such a physical series and be ready for what will be another tough test, he doesn't seem phased:

"Being in the conference finals is exciting, no matter how the last series went, or how hard it was.  It is with our experience that we have to say, okay good job last night, but it's time to put it behind us and prepare for what will be another tough series."  

And they will be ready.  After all, they have to.  Not just for themselves and their own personal and team success, but also for what another Red Wings Stanley Cup will do to energize a city, and a state, that has had more than its share of ups and downs over the past few years due to the struggling economy.  

"We bring a lot of happiness to the people of Detroit who are having a tough time right now," he said. "The fans who show up, and the fans that support us are just fantastic.  It's been a hard couple of years in Michigan, and it doesn't look right now like it's getting any better. 

"But it's kind of our job to take people away for a little bit, and we want to bring some happiness and excitement to Detroit for sure."  

One could argue at this point, they already have.  

And it will only get that much more exciting as the Central division rival Blackhawks battle the Wings for the right to play for the Stanley Cup.  As for Lidstrom, he feels the series will be exciting for all fans to watch. 

"It's going to be a close series.  They certainly have the depth to match us.  Aside from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, they have players like Martin Havlat, who I feel has some similarities to Hossa in how he uses his size to protect the puck and take it to the net, plus he has a lot of skill to compliment that. 

"Plus they have a great power play with a guy like Patrick Sharp, who just has a knack for getting in the right position at the right time, and he has a quick shot."

For Lidstrom—who has eleven points in eleven playoff games this year—the thrill of the chase is just getting started.  Because if the Wings wish to play for Lord Stanley's Cup, they'll have to do it by defeating one of their oldest rivals, a rivalry that stretches back all the way to the Original Six days.  

It's the veterans against the young guys. Speed against speed. Skill against skill. And it's shaping up to be another classic battle between the two, their first since 1995, where the Wings took the series four games to one.

But that was a different Red Wings team.  That was a different Blackhawks team.  

The current version gets underway this Sunday at the Joe.  Enough time perhaps, for Wings fans to calm down from last night's roller coaster ride. 

A word of warning though: This next ride will be just as intense.