It's almost 10pm on Thursday night. I was not in the Prudential Center last night to witness Anze Kopitar's game winning goal and I didn't make it to Joe Louis Arena today to cover Nicklas Lidstrom's press conference. Even if I had, there is nothing I could write in this space at this time with regards to reporting that hasn't already been written by the game's greatest writers.
Instead, I will just offer a few quick thoughts on each from one fan's perspective.
Kopitar's Overtime Winner
My favorite part about that goal? Kopitar finished by sliding the puck into the net along the ice. Whether you choose to deke to your forehand or backhand, unless you have the goaltender completely beat, players are generally taught to finish by putting the puck up top. A good goaltender will, even if fooled, be able to spread their legs to cover the bottom portion of the net from post to post on a breakaway. Therefore, getting the puck at the very least above the grounded pad often becomes essential.
Marty Brodeur isn't a good goaltender. He is one of, if not the, greatest ever to play the position. He is brilliant at what he does. He is also slightly unorthodox in certain situations. Kopitar knew this, because he too is one of the best in the game today at what he does.
Brodeur made a save in the Eastern Conference Finals on a streaking Marian Gaborik few in the world could have or would have thought to make. When he was all but beaten he threw his right leg up seemingly in an act of desperation and made a save that earned him top billing on Sportscenter for the better part of a week. Last night, it was Kopitar who beat Brodeur and Brodeur raised that same leg. Kopitar countered not by trying to go over, but by sliding the puck under the rising pad. It was like a fantastic chess match with the Slovenian star coming out on top by going "downstairs" and giving the Kings the Game 1 victory.
Lidstrom Walks Away On His Own Terms
Another story that will deserve all of the media attention it gets in the coming weeks. John Kreiser wrote a fantastic article on Sportsideo earlier today about the career of one of the game's all time greats and personal experiences he had with his encounters with Lidstrom in years past. Check it out and take a moment to let just a few of the mind boggling stats the talented Swede compiled over the years.
The numbers that may go less appreciated but caught my eye were regarding Lidstrom's durability and consistency. In 20 seasons he missed just 44 games. Red Wings GM Ken Holland has some wiggle room with regards to the cap with the defenseman's departure, but the organization has already made it clear that you cannot replace a player like that with any one signing.
The other stat that amazed me was his plus-minus number of +450. Of all the numbers that reinforce the fact that he was without peer for two full decades, that number may very well be the greatest (though the 7 Norris Trophies are not bad either). Jaromir Jagr finished this season second among active players behind Lidstrom in that category. He was +280. I won't waste another sentence trying to explain just how dominant that stat is.
I will say I saw a quote earlier saying Lidstrom was the greatest Swedish born player of all time and in the days ahead experts and novice fans alike will debate his place in the game's history. I will go ahead and say it is a waste of time discussing his place among his Countrymen, fellow defensemen, and players who skated alongside or against him in his era. He is without a doubt one of the 10 greatest hockey players ever to step foot on the planet and it has been an absolute privilege to have watched him play.