- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2008

DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit Red Wings would be in rough shape without Sweden.

In fact, their general manager insisted the Western Conference champions would have been knocked out of the postseason long ago — if they even made it — without their Swedes.

Thanks to Nicklas Lidstrom and several countrymen, Detroit is set to meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals at home in Game 1 on Saturday night.

“It’s a big deal back home,” Lidstrom said yesterday in an interview with the Associated Press. “They call us the Swedish NHL team because there’s so many of us.

“As we get deeper in the playoffs, more people are staying up late and going to work after watching us play.”

Sweden is six hours ahead of Michigan’s Eastern Daylight Time.

Lidstrom has been around for years, and he steadily has been joined in Detroit by players from back home. He was drafted by the Red Wings in the third round two decades ago and made his debut during the 1991-92 season.

Tomas Holmstrom, drafted 257th overall, was a rookie when the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997 and helped them win another title the next year and in 2002.

“It’s been amazing how the team exploded with Swedes,” Holmstrom said.

The Red Wings landed a star and perhaps a future one in back-to-back years, drafting forward Henrik Zetterberg 210th overall in 1999 and defenseman Niklas Kronwall with the 29th pick the next year.

Center Johan Franzen, a third-round pick in 2004, joined the Red Wings three years ago after the lockout, as did forward Mikael Samuelsson and defenseman Andreas Lilja as free agents.

“Somebody has the inside track on the Swedes because the Red Wings keep finding these guys late in the draft,” teammate Chris Chelios said. “It can’t be a fluke.”

The Red Wings are thankful to have Hakan Anderson, their director of European scouting, evaluating talent in Sweden to stock their roster.

“Hakan deserves most of the credit without a doubt,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “But other people have chipped in with a team effort to scout Sweden.”

Where would the Red Wings be without the Swedes?

“Probably not in the playoffs,” Holland said. “If we did even make the playoffs, we would’ve been eliminated a long time ago.

“Nick and Hank are two of the best players in the world. [Holmstrom] is the best at what he does in front of the net. Franzen has scored 12 goals in the playoffs. Kronwall is one of the top young defenseman in the league.”

Those five players helped Sweden win gold two years ago at the Olympics.

Lidstrom — whose slap shot lifted his country to a 3-2 win over Finland — has a chance to add to his fame. He will be the first European captain to win a Stanley Cup if Detroit gets past Pittsburgh and will break a tie with Ray Bourque if he wins a sixth Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman as expected this summer.

“Nick is getting more and more attention after not getting the credit he deserves back home,” Franzen said. “He’s never got the headlines until after the Olympics, when he opened the Swedes’ eyes.

“Hank is a bigger target of the media because of his girlfriend. They’re the Swedish version of Beckham and Posh.”

Zetterberg laughed at the comparison to David and Victoria Beckham, saying he and Emma Andersson are much more low key.

“We don’t get followed like crazy here or back home,” Zetterberg said. “But she’s had her own TV show, so she’s known in public, too.”