The date was Sunday, June 8, 1997, the night of the fourth game of the Stanley Cup finals between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit held a 3-0 lead in the series, and it was Swedish-born defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom who opened the scoring in what would be a 2-1 win, giving the Wings their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.
With the goal, the fair-haired, blue-eyed Swede finally exacted a measure of revenge against the Flyers' star center, Eric Lindros. The two had met for the first time at the 1990 World Junior Championships in Finland, where "the Big E's" Canadian squad won the gold medal. Now, seven years later, it would be Lidstrom's turn to claim the laurels. In 1998 the Red Wings again won the Cup,
the second championship of Lidtrom's career.
Lidstrom's greatest achievements occurred while he was with the Wings, but he was no stranger to winning. At 21 he had been a member of the Swedish national team that won the World Championships in Finland in 1991. A key to Tre Kronor's title was a 2-1 win over a Soviet squad that included Lidstrom's future NHL teammates Viacheslav Fetisov and Igor Larionov. He also played for Sweden in the Canada Cup that year.
Lidstrom's 1991 debut season in the NHL was a remarkable one. He accumulated 60 points (11 goals and 49 assists) and was second to Pavel Bure in Calder Trophy voting. When coach Scotty Bowman took over the Red Wings, he added a handful of Russian players to the lineup, enhancing the European flavor of this North American team. The skillful and sophisticated Lidstrom found it easy to become an important part of the Wings' new European-influenced style. He had acquired his elementary hockey education with Sweden's Vasteras club, but he did not hesitate to point out that he learned even more from his Russian-born teammates, Viacheslav Fetisov and Vladimir Konstantinov. Lidstrom would also be used on the team's power play with his defense partner, Paul Coffey.
Lidstrom was a reliable defenseman and a brilliant rusher, and his powerful shots from the blue line often took goalies by surprise. When the NHL suspended play during the 1997-98 season for the Nagano Winter Olympics, Lidstrom was the NHL's third-best-scoring Swede with 14 goals and 41 points to his credit in 57 games. Only forwards Peter Forsberg and Mats Sundin had outperformed him.
Recently, Lidstrom has been considering a return to Sweden so that his two sons, Kevin and Erik, can be educated there. If that happens, the 30-year-old defenseman will likely be welcomed by both Vasteros and Tre Kronor. At a time when so many of the best Swedish players go overseas, leaving few at home to play for the national team, someone of Lidstrom's caliber would be a real asset. Lidstrom himself played only 59 games for the national team before joining the NHL.
The two-time Stanley Cup winner entered the 2000-01 season looking to guide the Wings back to the Stanley Cup finals, however, the team was quickly dismissed by the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 2001 Stanley Cup playoffs. Although it was a disapointing season for the Wings as a team, Lidstrom who on many occasions had been the finalist for the James Norris Trophy as the league's top defenceman, captured his first Norris Trophy in 2001.
Coming off a Norris Trophy season, Lidstrom and the Wings continued their regular season dominance 2001-02 and found themself on their way to another first place finish in the Western Conference. However, before making another run at the Holly Grail Lidstrom would represent his homeland at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. After a disapointing result at Salt Lake City, Lidstrom and the Wings were focused on the task of capturing the team's third Stanley Cup in six years. Following a first round scare by the Vancouver Canucks, the Wings eliminated their rival from Colorado in the Western Conference final and then disposed of the Carolina Hurricanes in the final. Not only was this Lidstrom's third Stanley Cup, he went to capture the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs and capped off the season with his second consecutive Norris Trophy. Lidstrom duplicated his Norris win the in 2003-03 and for the sixth time in his career was name to the NHLs First All-Star Team.
In 2003-04, Lidstrom and the Wings dominated, capturing yet another Presidents' Trophy as the top team during the regular season. However, after playing his 1,000th NHL game, Lidstrom and the Wings saw their season come to an abrupt end in the second round of the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs. Although his NHL season was done, Lidstrom answered the call of duty and joined Team Sweden for the final two games of the 2004 World Championships. Upon his arrival, he helped his country defeat Team USA in the semi-final, but came up short in the final against a determined Team Canada.
Lidstrom would return to the international stage in 2006 where he would once again represent his native Sweden, this time at the Olympic Games in Turin, Italy. He would return to Detroit with a Gold Medal and shortly after record his 600th career assist in a game against the Phoenix Coyotes.
At the start of the 2006-07 seasons, Lidstrom was named captain of the Detroit Red Wings following the retirement of former captain Steve Yzerman. That season, Lidstrom led all defenceman in plus-minus with a plus 40 rating, while he ranked third among all players in ice timer per game 27:29. His remarkable first season as captain of the Red Wings was capped off with his fifth James Norris Trophy. In 2007-08, Lidstrom and the Red Wings simply dominated the regular season en route to their fourth Presidents' Trophy in six seasons. Despite their performance in the regular season, few thought the club was a serious Stanley Cup contender. However, in the 2008 NHL playoffs the Red Wings rolled through the Western Conference and beat the upstart Pittsburgh Penguins in six games of the Stanley Cup Final. Upon being presented the Stanley Cup by league commissioner Gary Betteman, Lidstrom became the first European-born captain to hoist hockey's top prize. Two weeks later Lidstrom captured his sixth James Norris Trophy in seven years.
For the seventh time in an already decorated NHL career, Nicklas Lidstrom was named the league's best defenseman and awarded with the James Norris Memorial Trophy in 2011.
In winning the award for the seventh time, Lidstrom entered elite company, tying Hockey Hall of Fame Honoured Member Doug Harvey and putting him only one behind the incomparable Bobby Orr.