PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - When the Stanley Cup is handed to the winning captain sometime this week it will mark a significant NHL milestone.
If Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom is called forward, the classy Swede will become the first European to captain an NHL champion, confirming foreign players bring not only talent but also leadership to the sport.
The Red Wings lead the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 and Game Five is in Detroit on Monday.
If the Penguins fight back to win the best-of-seven final then it will be “Sid the Kid,” Sidney Crosby, who raises the trophy, becoming at the age of 20 the youngest captain of a Stanley Cup champion.
While both men have cases heaving with awards, being the player who hoists hockey’s Holy Grail is widely regarded as one of the sport’s greatest single honors.
Crosby is not quite yet old enough to legally drink champagne from Lord Stanley’s famous mug.
But in just three seasons he has put his stamp on the game and captaining a team to a Stanley Cup triumph would confirm his status as the face of the NHL.
There are players in the Penguins’ dressing room nearly twice Crosby’s age but the young Canadian has already earned the respect of team mates for his tenacious, fearless play and dazzling skill.
One of those rare individuals born to lead, Crosby does so by example rather than talk.
After a shut out in the first two games, Crosby took the Penguins on his back in Game Three, scoring the first two goals in a 3-2 win that trimmed the Red Wings’ lead to 2-1.
“What impressed me the most about Sid is you look at him and it’s obvious every morning he’s going to bring skill,” said Penguins’ center Maxime Talbot. “He’s probably one of the most talented guys in the league.”
Should the Red Wings capture their fourth title since 1997 it would not be the first time the 38-year-old Lidstrom has sipped from the Cup’s silver bowl. He was a member of all three of those Detroit champion teams.
The Swede is already the first European to win the Norris trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman and the first European to capture the Conn Smythe trophy as the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Becoming the first foreign captain of Cup winner would complete a hat-trick of European firsts and Lidstrom makes no secret that it would be a tremendous honor and one he covets.
He said after his team went 3-1 up in the series with a 2-1 win on Saturday: ”It’s been brought up a lot from the media. But I tried not to think about that.
“I‘m trying to think more about having a chance to win another Cup. And it’s something that I try to push back and not think too much about. It would mean a lot.”
While Europeans have long been highly regarded for the immense skill they have brought to the NHL few have become captains.
Lidstrom played for many years under Steve Yzerman, one of the NHL’s all-time great leaders and captains, before being handed the captaincy two years ago.
“When Stevie (Yzerman) decided to retire, it was a no-brainer who was going to be the next captain of this hockey club,” said Red Wings’ center Kris Draper.
”He (Lidstrom) is very similar to Stevie about how he carries himself on and off the ice.
“Really, what he does is he just goes out and leads by example -- playing at a high level, game in, game out.”
He added: “He doesn’t say a lot. He’s not a rah-rah kind of guy. But just like Stevie and a lot of the great leaders, when they speak, everyone listens.”
Editing by Dave Thompson