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Published: 5/10/2010

End of the line: Sharks oust Wings; Lidstrom could leave

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard can't stop a shot by San Jose's Patrick Marleau, the game-winning goal in Saturday night's playoff game. Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard can't stop a shot by San Jose's Patrick Marleau, the game-winning goal in Saturday night's playoff game.
MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ / AP Enlarge

ROMULUS, Mich. - When Nicklas Lidstrom took off his Detroit Red Wings uniform and unlaced his skates Saturday night, the defenseman didn't wonder whether he would wear the winged wheel again.

"I swear, I didn't," he insisted.

The 40-year-old Lidstrom deflected every question from reporters about his future after getting off the team plane yesterday, about 15 hours after his season ended. The San Jose Sharks eliminated Detroit on home ice in Game 5 in the NHL Western Conference semifinals.

"I haven't thought about it yet," he said. "It's not on my mind right now. I don't have a timetable."

Joe Thornton set up Patrick Marleau for the tiebreaking goal 6:59 into the third period and Evgeni Nabokov bounced back from a Game 4 shellacking to help the Sharks eliminate the two-time defending Western Conference champion Red Wings.

Detroit got its goal early in the second when Brian Rafalski's point shot sneaked through to make it 1-0. Johan Franzen assisted on that goal, tying Gordie

Howe's franchise record set in 1964 by recording a point in 12 straight playoff games.

Lidstrom acknowledged knowing the Red Wings want an answer from him before free agency begins July 1.

Detroit general manager Ken Holland hopes to meet with every player, including Lidstrom, within the next two weeks and wants to re-sign Lidstrom.

"We want him back," Holland said. "I don't know what process he's got to go through."

Lidstrom didn't publicly provide any clues, saying he hasn't even privately discussed the options with his wife and children. He has spent his entire 18-season career with the Red Wings.

The Swedish superstar seemed to slip from great to good this season, contributing 49 points - his second-lowest total in 14 seasons - then his mistakes were noticed for a change in the playoffs. He wasn't a finalist for the Norris Trophy for just the second time in more than a decade.

Just two years ago, though, he was honored as the NHL's best defenseman for a sixth time to put him behind only Bobby Orr's and Doug Harvey's total.

"I don't think I'm that far away from where I was two years ago," Lidstrom said.

Lidstrom played in his 247th playoff game Saturday, matching Patrick Roy's mark and trailing only Chris Chelios' record total of 266. But he doesn't plan to play long enough to challenge the 48-year-old Chelios' longevity.

"If I'm going to continue to play, that's not going to be a goal of mine," Lidstrom said with a smile.

Detroit's goal was to simply make the playoffs this season after losing players last summer who combined to score 88 goals, then being forced to compete without key players because of injuries for the much of the season.

The Red Wings rallied to be the fifth-seeded team in the Western Conference finals with the best post-Olympic break record in the league, earning a spot in the NHL's 19 straight postseason to extend the longest streak in sports.

That still didn't take away the sting of defeat.

"It's always disappointing when you don't go all the way," Holland said. "Some good things happened for us. Jimmy Howard is a big story for us. We got a 26-year-old goaltending. He was tremendous for us (in Game 5).

"It's harder and harder to make the playoffs. That's not the standard we set long, but I think we've got the nucleus to take a legitimate run at it again next year."

Besides Lidstrom, forwards Tomas Holmstrom, Todd Bertuzzi, Jason Williams along with defensemen Andreas Lilja and Brett Lebda are eligible to be unrestricted free agents.

"It's going to take a process prior to July 1 to decide who we're going to keep," Holland said.

Canucks 4, Blackhawks 1

CHICAGO - Kevin Bieksa scored two goals, Roberto Luongo made 29 saves and Vancouver stayed alive in the Western Conference semifinals. Chicago leads the series 3-2.

Christian Ehrhoff opened the scoring for the Canucks, just 59 seconds into the game. Alex Burrows added an empty-netter late in the game.

The Blackhawks' only goal was by Jonathan Toews.



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