Sharks-Wings: Nick's future, avoiding sweep

May, 6, 2010

DETROIT -- With the Red Wings one loss from having their season end, the annual rite of wondering about Nicklas Lidstrom's future has begun. The 40-year-old defenseman will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

"I'm focused on the game tonight," he said Thursday morning. "I'll let whatever happens happen. I'll worry about that after the season is over."

The way he's played in the second half of the season and in these playoffs, there's no question he can return and remain a force. The Wings certainly want him back.

"He's a good man," Wings coach Mike Babcock said Thursday after the team's morning skate. "He's been fantastic because leadership to me is about doing things right. He still says the right things, but it's about his actions and what he does. From the way he treats his family to the way he interacts with the players and management, it's always been about the team.

"He's gone about his business very quietly, unassuming. And yet the bigger the game, the bigger the stage, the better he's played. He's not 25 anymore, but he's still an elite, elite player, and we're very fortunate that we have him. As a coach, he doesn't mind giving you feedback. He helps you out. He's got thoughts. He's a great example for everybody."

The pride of Newfoundland!

The province of Newfoundland has just more than half a million residents, and you can bet just more than half a million residents will once again be watching tonight's Game 4 between Detroit and San Jose.

OK, that's an exaggeration. But they're apparently pretty darn excited as Newfoundland natives Dan Cleary of the Red Wings and Ryane Clowe of the Sharks go head to head in this series.

"And we've got Michael Ryder [Boston Bruins] playing, too, right now, so we're represented pretty well this year," Cleary said. "I like it."

"Pretty legit chances to win a Cup from those three teams," Clowe said. "It's pretty exciting back home right now."

It's only the second time in NHL history three Newfoundland natives have reached the second round of the playoffs. The same three players did it two years ago, as well. That's also when Cleary became the first Newfoundlander to a capture a Stanley Cup and brought it home to an excited province that summer.

"I wasn't around, I was out of town, but I know it was a crazy party when he brought the Cup home," Clowe said. "It was wild."

Clowe and Cleary are four years apart, so they never played together growing up. Besides, they're from different communities. Both were quick to mention Thursday that their communities are fierce rivals in senior hockey. But there is a tie-in between the two: Clowe's girlfriend.

"She's my second or third cousin; I grew up with her," Cleary said.

So, who's more popular in Newfoundland?

"He's a got a good following; they worship the ground he walks on where he comes from," Cleary said of Clowe.

"I don't know about that," Clowe said when told of Cleary's comment. "He's the one who won the Cup and had the party for 30,000 people."

Clowe said Red Wings jerseys still outnumber the ones from San Jose.

"But gradually every year, you see more Sharks jerseys, more teal," he said with a smile.

The long road back

A common refrain this morning in both dressing rooms was that if there's any team that can erase a 3-0 deficit, it's the Red Wings. Because of that, the Sharks insist they're not looking ahead.

"Because it's Detroit, it may make the coaches' job and the leaders' job easier because they do have that distinct threat of having that ability to come back," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said Thursday morning. "If it was another team that didn't have the rich history and experience that this Red Wing team has, maybe we could get ahead of ourselves. But I think they're actually helping us in that preparation, if you will, because we have that respect for them."

The Wings have done a lot of winning over the past 15-plus years, so that experience is key right now.

"Number one, you have a lot of confidence just because you're a good team and you've been a good team for a long time and found ways to win games," Babcock said.

And there's not much else left to say.

"We did most of our talking yesterday," said Babcock. "The message from me real clearly was that, 'You have to get your mind right. You got to get this compartmentalized into what it is.' Winning four games is a huge amount. Win a game, talk about your first shift like we always do and you're fine. That's the whole key here. We've got to win a game. There's no sense talking about anything else."

Nabby shining

Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov has been rock solid in these playoffs, as underlined by his 2.14 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. A question some people had coming into the postseason was whether the Russian netminder would feel any residual effects from his Olympic quarterfinals nightmare against Canada, in which he was yanked after giving up six goals. Clearly, that hasn't been the case.

McLellan remembers watching that Olympic game on TV.

"We felt for Nabby because he's the last line of defense," McLellan said Thursday. "He let a number of goals in; he didn't look as sharp as I'm sure he'd like. But if you were really watching the game closely, the other 18 or 19 players in front of him probably played poorer than he did, so we put that into the equation.

"When he came back, I remember sitting down with him and saying, 'Hey Nabby, that was that team, you're coming back to our team now. You just do what you do.'"

McLellan said Nabokov is among a group of players on his team that seems determined to prove many detractors wrong, that he can bring it come playoff time.

"And he's done a very good job of it," the coach said.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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