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Wings’ Nicklas Lidstrom walks away after 2 decades of perfection

Future Hall Famer Nicklas Lidstrom officially announced his retirement Thursday. | Glenn James~Getty Images

Future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom officially announced his retirement Thursday. | Glenn James~Getty Images

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All games at 7 p.m.

Game 1: Kings 2, at Devils 1 (OT)
Saturday: at New Jersey, Ch. 5.
Monday: at Los Angeles, NBCSN.
Wednesday: at L.A., NBCSN.
x-June 9: at New Jersey, Ch. 5.
x-June 11: at Los Angeles, Ch. 5.
x-June 13: at New Jersey, Ch. 5.

x-if necessary

Updated: July 6, 2012 10:14AM

NEWARK, N.J. — In the hockey world, few things can upstage the Stanley Cup finals. It takes something special.

In this case, it’s the retirement of a special player.

Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom officially announced his retirement Thursday after 20 seasons in Detroit.

“It’s not that the tank is completely empty,” Lidstrom said during an emotional news conference. “I just don’t have enough to carry me through every day at a high level that I want to play at.

“Retiring today allows me to walk away from the game with pride rather than having the game walk away from me.”

A day earlier, opposing general managers gushed over him and jokingly relished the chance to finally face Detroit without him.

Former and current players praised Lidstrom on Twitter. And at the Prudential Center — less than 24 hours after the Los Angeles Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils 2-1 in overtime of Game 1 — Lidstrom was a hot topic.

“I’d watch video of him my first year in the league just to see how positionally good he was and just learn,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. “The way he carries himself off the ice, he’s a real leader.”

“Just watching him play ... it’s like a symphony,” Devils defenseman Henrik Tallinder said.

“He was a hard guy to coach against,’’ Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. ‘‘I did it lots being in Chicago, then San Jose, Calgary. He was a frustrating guy to coach against because you could never get to Nicklas Lidstrom.”

Lidstrom even was a topic for Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp during a visit to the St. Louise De Marillac School in La Grange Park on Thursday.

“He’s just good in every area,” Sharp said. “He’s one of those guys that every team would be drafting first overall if they were picking an all-time team.”

As much as Hawks fans loathed seeing Lidstrom shut down their best players with grace, not brute force, or making blue-line play look so easy, even the most fanatical can appreciate the class and on-ice gifts Lidstrom possessed.

The 42-year-old Swede wasn’t just a rare athlete who starred no matter how much the game changed. He has been a model of true professionalism. His teammates called him “The Perfect Human.”

“When you get a chance to witness his leadership, it’s always right there,” Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch said in Detroit. “There’s no variation. He got there, got the job done. Being a professional, being a good human being, being a good citizen. Don’t do things that will hurt your reputation and hurt your team.”

Those are words many young players — including a certain Hawk or two — should consider.

What does this mean for the Hawks on the ice?

Their rivals lose their captain, a seven-time Norris Trophy winner, a gifted power-play quarterback and a durable stalwart on four Stanley Cup-winning teams who was an astounding plus-450 in his career, the eighth-best mark ever. (His only minus season came in 2010-11, when he was a minus-2 but still won the Norris).

A better blue-liner? Arguably only Bobby Orr.

“[Lidstrom is] one of the greatest defensemen to ever play the game, if not the greatest,” Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said. “The game of hockey is lucky to have him as many years as we’ve had.”

That’s 20, and the Red Wings were in the playoffs for all of them.

Of course, Lidstrom’s departure means more money for the Wings to spend. They’re expected to pursue Predators star defenseman Ryan Suter, an unrestricted free agent, and will be extremely active overall.

“I guess that would be logical, right?” Bowman said. “[Wings GM] Kenny [Holland] has done a great job there in Detroit the last however many years he’s been there, and they’re a great team every year.”

But now the biggest reason for their success is gone.

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