Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and Bruins goalie Tim Thomas each also happen to have a deep appreciation for what the other has accomplished, even if this weekend has brought them into conflict for a home-and-home series that wraps up in Detroit on Sunday.
Lidstrom, 40, was a plus-3 on Friday when the Red Wings handed Boston a 6-1 loss at the Garden, but Thomas had a more enjoyable time last month when they were on the same side at the NHL All-Star Game. Lidstrom was an even more impressive plus-7 in that game, as the squad he captained edge Eric Staal's team 11-10 in Raleigh.
"I only played the one period with him, so I didn't get a very good read," said Thomas, who turns 37 in April. "I know it was a sneaky plus-7. He's one of the all-time greats, no doubt about it. I saw the one pass he made to [Matt] Duchene I think it was. That was a beautiful pass.
"But a lot of the other contributions he makes, he does it so well you don't even notice he's the one who made the pass or anything like that," Thomas added. "It might not be the pass on the goal, it might be the pass that set up the guy who set up the guy who scored, but he gives it to the guy who sets up the goal in such a good way that the guy has time and can look and set up the other guy so good."
The new All-Star format featured captains Lidstrom and Staal drafting players to determine the teams, and Lidstrom made Thomas the first goalie he selected in the fifth round. Thomas rewarded that faith by earning the win with a solid showing in the third period, his record third straight All-Star Game win.
"I didn't know that," Lidstrom said of Thomas' All-Star Game record, "but I guess it was a good pick for us that we picked him."
Lidstrom might not have known what Thomas had done in previous All-Star Games, but he was certainly aware of what the Bruins netminder has been doing this season with a league-leading 1.92 GAA and .941 save percentage.
"It's very impressive the numbers he has," Lidstrom said. "I had a chance to talk with him a little bit at the All-Star Game. He's from the Flint area, the Detroit area. He's been playing tremendous for the team. He's playing so well. With the team that they have, they're playing well in front of him, but he's a tremendous goaltender."
Asked what makes Thomas so effective, Lidstrom hit on a quality Bruins fans have come to know well: Thomas' tenacity.
"He never quits on plays," Lidstrom said. "There's a rebound and it looks like the net is open, but he's not going to quit on it. You have to bear down and bury the chances that you do have. But you also have to create some traffic in front of him, be there for screens and tips and second chances, because he's so good you're not often going to score on the first chance on him."
Lidstrom elicits similar respect from the Bruins players, especially one youngster who grew up watching him play in Michigan.
"He just makes the game look so easy," Bruins defenseman Steven Kampfer said. "He's so calm out there with the puck. Every time he touches it he knows what he's going to do. He's always thinking one step ahead of the game and that's what you want to do as a defenseman. You want to know what you're going to do before you get the puck. That's something that he's always done and it's pretty special to watch."
Kampfer knows plenty about watching Lidstrom. He's been doing that since he was a kid growing up in Jackson, Michigan.
"I used to watch Nik Lidstrom and I guess try to imitate him as much as I could when I was a kid," said Kampfer, who wore Lidstrom's No. 5 in his younger days as a tribute to his favorite player. "Now to share the ice with him will be fun, but you want to win a game as well."
Lidstrom was asked what it was like to hear fellow NHLers talk about him with such reverence.
"It makes you feel old, first of all," Lidstrom said. "I've been around for long time, but it's flattering too when you hear of players looking up to you when they were growing up and liked the way you were playing, so it is flattering to hear."
Lidstrom is playing his 19th season in the NHL, with four Stanley Cup rings and six Norris Trophies already on his resume. And he might just add a seventh this season as he currently is tied for second in scoring among defensemen with 11-33-44 totals through 55 games. So how has he maintained such a high level of play for so long?
"I think first of all, staying in shape, taking care of myself in the offseason and not having any major injuries," Lidstrom said. "I think the style of play I have [helps] too. I'm not an overly physical defenseman. I try to play my position right and be in the right spots all the time. And some luck, too, not having those injuries."
It's not just luck though, that has made Lidstrom one of the best defensemen in NHL history, with Detroit coach Mike Babcock even daring to put him in the company of a couple Bruins legends.
"He's a phenomenal player, he's one of the best of all-time," Babcock said of Lidstrom. "It was interesting. I saw Ray Bourque [Thursday] night, he's one of those guys, and Bobby Orr, [Doug] Harvey. Those are in the same conversation. Those are elite, elite players."
The current Bruins wouldn't disagree.
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