- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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DETROIT -- The talk heading into Game 4 was whether we were seeing the last of Nicklas Lidstrom.
The legendary defenseman didn't have a whole lot to say on the matter Thursday. Turns out he was waiting to do his talking on the ice Friday night.
"You guys were talking about retirement," said Wings head coach Mike Babcock. "I think he answered that pretty good."
Two goals, a plus-2 rating and a near flawless defensive game for Lidstrom had Joe Louis Arena rocking like it was the Stanley Cup finals, and the Wings avoided elimination with a 4-3 win.
"He's a special competitor. In an elimination game, he's our best player and steps up and led the way tonight," Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com just outside his team's dressing room.
Retire? Heck, this guy showed again Friday night why he can play a few more years -- if he chooses to.
"There's no doubt he has lots of hockey left in him. Lots of hockey this year, and I think lots of hockey beyond this year," said Holland, who might have been crossing his fingers when he said that to us.
"I've been fortunate to be around a lot of players who other people looked at the birth certificate, players like Steve Yzerman, Igor Larionov, Dominik Hasek, Chris Chelios; Nick Lidstrom is right there at the head of the class," added Holland. "Age is only a number. He's just so great, so focused, so committed, so determined that the birth certificate is just a number."
The Wings needed their leader on this night. They were down 3-0 in a series to a San Jose Sharks team that has had all the answers. The 41-year-old Lidstrom responded with a blast at 11:09 of the first period to make it 2-0 and a bouncy shot on the power play at 18:01 of the first, which displayed his deft hand-eye coordination and gave the Wings a three-goal lead.
"That's why he's played 20-plus years, the guy is magical," said Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi, who opened the scoring on a dazzling backhand. "He steps up at big times and carries a lot of the load of this team on his shoulders. We needed that kind of performance out of him."
Said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan: "He stepped up and led his team. That's what captains do. Their captain did. He has a calming effect on his team. He had a hell of a night."
It nearly wasn't enough. The Sharks, as resilient a bunch as they've ever been, managed a three-goal comeback on goals by Logan Couture, Dan Boyle and Dany Heatley, the latter scoring 1:14 into the third period. And suddenly the Joe Louis Arena crowd was quiet as a mouse.
But the Wings fought back in the second half of the third period, playing perhaps their best hockey of the series with a wave of dangerous shifts in the Sharks' zone. All the while, Joe Louis Arena rocked so loudly it seemed inevitable a goal would eventually come.
"It was a huge adrenaline rush," said Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who stopped 25 of 28 shots. "Our fans were going crazy the last 10 minutes of the game. That really helped energize us."
Detroit's unrelenting attack finally produced the winner when Darren Helm found an open side with 1:27 left in the third period.
Bedlam at Joe Louis Arena. And a plane trip to San Jose for Game 5 on Sunday.
"We were fighting for our lives there," said Helm. "Hopefully we can carry that momentum."
Helm is among the younger group of players on this team. He knows what another loss in this series means; perhaps the end of some great careers in his dressing room. So, there was no lack of motivation on this night.
"Some guys may not be back, this might be one of our last chances to have a really good team, so yeah, you want to win and play hard for everybody in here," said Helm. "It's about the logo on your chest. There's a lot of pride in this dressing room and guys knew it was a desperate situation and they didn't want to be embarrassed by being swept. We feel like we have a good chance here. We have an opportunity to win Game 5 in San Jose, and hopefully we can keep those guys [older teammates] around a little longer."
Lidstrom didn't need to say a whole lot before the game. The stakes were obvious.
"As a team we just said, 'We got to go out there and play with confidence. We know we can play and we just have to go out there and do it. We've said a lot of things in here but now it's time to go out there and do it.' I thought we did that as a group," said the Wings captain.
"We showed some character, we showed some heart and fought back."
And No. 5 showed he's still got game.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
22hDanny Knobler, Special to ESPN.com