DETROIT - The best on the blue line this decade will be on display in the Detroit Red Wings-Anaheim Ducks series.
Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom has won the past three Norris Trophies, awarded to the NHL's top defenseman. Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer broke Lidstrom's streak in 2004, and teammate Chris Pronger earned the honor in 2000.
"It's going to be a challenge for our forwards to make it hard on them," Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart said yesterday.
The defending champion Red Wings have plenty of talent to test Niedermayer and Pronger.
But the top-seeded San Jose Sharks did, too, and they've been relegated to golf in May.
Pronger and Niedermayer shut down the Sharks, holding them scoreless twice and to only a goal in the series finale in Game 6.
The second-seeded Red Wings will host eighth-seeded Anaheim tomorrow night in Game 1 of the Western Conference second-round series.
"It's just another challenge," Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf said after the team practiced in Allen Park. "We knew we were going to have to go through San Jose and Detroit to be where we want to be."
The play of the star
defensemen might prove to be pivotal, and the three each shine in different ways.
Niedermayer won the Norris in 2004 while playing for the New Jersey Devils.
"He can play longer and has so much more energy because he's such a natural skater," Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski said.
Niedermayer missed the first two months of the 2007-08 season while contemplating retirement after the team won the Stanley Cup and he was the playoffs MVP.
Pronger was with the St. Louis Blues when he earned the trophy nine years ago as he also claimed the Hart Trophy as league MVP.
Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom has made a career out of standing in front of the net to redirect shots into the net or to shield goaltenders from seeing them, but it's tough for him to play his role when the 6-foot-6, 213-pound Pronger is lurking.
"He's a big boy and he's got a long reach and he's pretty good with the muck," Holmstrom said.
As great as Niedermayer and Pronger are, the Red Wings wouldn't trade Lidstrom for either one or any defenseman in the world.
"Nick's got more Norrises, so I'll go with him as No. 1," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock.
Lidstrom is a finalist for the Norris Trophy this year and if he wins it for a seventh time, he'll tie Doug Harvey's total and pull within one of Bobby Orr.