Wings' Lidstrom drawing on experience
Nicklas Lidstrom has been here before.
The NHL's top defenceman has played in the conference finals eight times in his career with the Detroit Red Wings, which started back in 1991.
The Wings have won the West five times in that span, on the way to four Stanley Cup championships.
But the team is coming off perhaps its toughest series in years while overcoming the eighth-seeded Anaheim Ducks in a gruelling seven-game set.
Not only that, but the veteran Wings are on a collision course with the young, speedy, and energetic Chicago Blackhawks.
The Hawks are a bit more rested too, after an emphatic six-game victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
But Lidstrom's not worried.
After all, he's been here before.
"Having the experience that we have on our team, I think we're able to put the last series behind us and get ready for another tough one," Lidstrom told CBCSports.ca in a conference call Friday.
"And I think this is going to be a tough one too."
The 39-year-old native of Vasteras, Sweden, continues to excel in post-season play. Lidstrom has three goals and eight assists in the playoffs, good for a point-per-game output. He has 45 goals and 115 assists in 225 career playoff games.
The Detroit captain has also watched his team dominate the Norris/Central Division standings, finishing in first place 13 times while he's been with the team.
But that domination looks like it might be waning, with Chicago, Columbus, and St. Louis all making strides towards the Wings.
"If you look, especially in our division, teams have closed in. Look at the other teams that made the playoffs in our division, and weren't in the playoffs last year. You see teams just getting better and better," Lidstrom said.
It also makes it that much sweeter to stay on top of the heap when all the other favourites are falling away.
"We've been able to find ways to win. It's been fun," he said.
Now that Boston, San Jose, and Washington are all eliminated from the playoffs, second-seeded Detroit is now the highest-ranked team left in the post-season.
Early edge to Detroit
The Red Wings manhandled the Blackhawks in the early going of the regular season, winning the first four contests, including the 2009 Winter Classic held on New Year's Day at Wrigley Field.
However, an emerging theme in the Windy City is the team's ability to bounce back after poor starts. True to their form, the Blackhawks took the final two matchups versus Detroit.
"I don't think it's going to apply that much, what happened in the regular season," Lidstrom said. "I think us as a team were going to look back at what we did well against Anaheim and in the first round against Columbus.
Detroit will have to adjust in order to handle the quick Chicago forwards, a far cry from what the Wings had to deal with in their second round series against the Ducks.
"The lines we've been facing in the previous series here, with [Anaheim's Ryan] Getzlaf at centre, they're big guys," Lidstrom said. "They're good at hanging onto the puck down low and grinding it out and trying to tire us out a little bit.
"Whereas the young Blackhawks have great speed and they're very skilled players. I think they're going to come at us with a lot more speed and try to score off the rush."
Detroit opens its Western Conference final against Chicago on Sunday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena.