NEWARK, N.J. - With a two-day break between Stanley Cup opener and Game 2 on Saturday, the day after the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 victory in the curtain raiser clearly belonged to Nicklas Lidstrom and his decision to retire.
Praise for the classy Detroit Red Wings captain arrived from all corners of the hockey world, and the New Jersey Devils were no different.
Like the newly retired legend, Devils rookie defenceman Adam Larsson wears sweater No. 5. Truth be told, he would rather have a No. 7 on his back, but when he arrived in New Jersey for training camp last fall that that digit belonged to fellow Swede Henrik Tallinder.
Still, even though Larsson was born shortly after Lidstrom began his second season in Detroit that doesn't mean the 19 year old doesn't idolize Lidstrom. He's never met Lidstrom and his father Robert, a former Kings draft pick, never shared any stories when the two competed against each another for two seasons in the Swedish Elitserien more than two decades ago. But the younger Larsson fondly recalls a brush with Lidstrom from a few months ago.
That was when Larsson got to within a few feet of Lidstrom in the pre-game warm-up of the Devils-Red Wings game at Joe Louis Arena on Apr. 5. Larsson was a healthy scratch that evening, but he skated in the warm-up and watched Lidstrom's every move. He couldn't take his eyes off Lidstrom and called the moment one of the highlights of his rookie season with New Jersey.
"I watched him play in the national team and all that," Larsson said. "He's huge in Sweden, too. I think all the young players in Sweden look up to him, try to play similar as he does.
"What he has done is unique. Hopefully, I can look back after my career and see that I've done something good like he has."
Lidstrom, 42, announced his retirement after 20 seasons with the Red Wings, four Stanley Cups, seven Norris Trophies, and winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2002. He was the first European born and trained player to captain a team to the NHL championship in 2008.
Tallinder and Devils backup goalie Johan Hedberg know Lidstrom from time spent together on the Swedish national team.
"You could say it's a sad day for hockey," Hedberg said. "But maybe it's a little bit expected. I think he's probably one of the, if not the best, Swedish player to ever play the game. He's been a great role model for every Swede growing up, myself included. I had an honor to play with him a few times on the national team.
"He's a great person, very, very professional. I think he's someone who probably doesn't get the respect that he deserves in Sweden. He's a low-key guy that gets overshadowed by some more marquee personalities. If there's anyone who people should want to model themselves after, it would be him."
Tallinder, who has been out of the Devils lineup since Jan. 17 with a blood clot but has been cleared to play, called Lidstrom the best Swede to play in the NHL.
"He's been an icon in Sweden for so long," Tallinder said. "Two decades is a long time playing in the best league in the world. The things he has accomplished are remarkable. In my eyes, he's the best Swedish player we've had over here. No offense to [Peter] Forsberg and [Mats] Sundin. Just with four Stanley Cups, seven Norris Trophies, that says it all.
"For me growing up, he wasn't my biggest idol because I was a little bit too young," the 33-year-old Tallinder joked. "But once he started to make it in this league, I mean, who doesn't look up to him? He's an icon. Everybody wants to be like him, play like him. Offensively, defensively, you name it, he does it all.
"The first time I played against him, I can't remember that, but we were probably playing Detroit and we were probably - how do you say - getting killed by them. But watching him play ... it's like a symphony."
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