Detroit — They are both Stanley Cup winners with the Red Wings, and team captains who have been top scorers of the franchise while demonstrating, in their individual ways, the sort of toughness required to prevail as winners in the NHL.
When Henrik Zetterberg started creeping up on Ted Lindsay on the franchise list of career goals, tying and passing the older warrior this season, the performances of two great Wings stood side-by-side, among all the rest, in the 92-year history of the club.
“I’m so happy about it,” Lindsay said, of Zetterberg’s feat. “He’s a great person and a great hockey player.
“Marks like that are meant to be passed,” the 92-year-old mused. “Records are meant to be broken.”
Zetterberg’s 336 career goals in 1,069 games played for the Red Wings compares to Lindsay’s 335 goals in 862, from 1944-57 and, in his comeback season, 1964-65.
Only Gordie Howe (786), Steve Yzerman (692), Alex Delvecchio (456) and Sergei Fedorov (400) tallied more for the Wings.
“He’s maintained himself, heath wise,” Lindsay said. “He’s a physical specimen.
“He loves the game,” said Lindsay, who grew up in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, where he picked up the signal of Red Wings radio broadcasts as a boy and became a lifelong fan.
“I think that that’s half the battle, if you love your game.”
Lindsay might have scored another 50-60 goals for the Red Wings. But General Manager Jack Adams dealt him to the Black Hawks after the 1957 season because of Lindsay’s labor organizing activity.
Neither Zetterberg nor Lindsay are big, especially compared to the other players of their day.
Both careers are long examples of smaller men struggling to compete against bigger ones, in the best league in the world.
Their toughness is measured in many ways.
Lindsay persisted against the roughest, best players of the so-called Original Six era. He scored big goals in big games and, never, ever backed down.
If victory required violence, Lindsay jumped to the challenge.
“I never worried about big guys,” Lindsay said. “Big, big guys fall farther than little guys. That’s all.”
Zetterberg once stayed on the ice, to considerable effect in a playoff game, after Shea Weber held his skull in the palm of his hand and fired it into the glass, three times.
He led the Wings to a Stanley Cup in 2008 and a consecutive appearance in the final the next year.
He played in pain, from his back, for at least a few seasons.
He inherited the captaincy from Nicklas Lidstrom, and Zetterberg’s old dressing stall neighbor, Steve Yzerman. He never flinched.
And he is the captain of the Wings at a far more difficult time.
The classic Zetterberg pose is him warding off a larger player or two with his hips while holding the puck outstretched to maintain possession. He has made a career of it.
Since he was removed on a stretcher from the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, his nettlesome back so painful he could not walk, Zetterberg has missed just five NHL games, and not one in the past three seasons.
The great Lions tackle of their heyday 60 years ago, Alex Karras, said, “Toughness is in the soul and the spirit, not the muscles.”
Amid the Red Wings decline, Zetterberg’s leadership is even more singular. His lengthening string of post-loss meetings with the media are routinely displays of considerable grit.
In some recent games, according to Jeff Blashill and visual evidence, Zetterberg is at times the only player persisting through an increasingly miserable season, and he provides instruction and an example of playing properly in “an every-day league.”
“Personally, obviously, it’s a big goal, passing Ted,” he said after scoring his 336th goal against the Sharks, March 12.
“I think I told you guys that before, Ted means a lot to me.”
From 1952-56, Lindsay served as captain of the Red Wings, the 13th player so honored.
Zetterberg, in his sixth year as captain, is the 35th.
Lindsay is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and his No. 7 is retired.
Zetterberg will follow him to the Hall and the rafters.
“He’s a class act, a class person,” Lindsay said.
“He’s a great representative of Sweden. He’s a great representative of the Red Wings and the National Hockey League.”
And, besides, Lindsay knows what it is like to play tough.
“If you’re a player, you’re fighting every game you are playing to achieve something. to get to that goal,” Lindsay said. “You want to pass it.
“A goal is put there for a reason, an incentive. Something to strive for.
“I’m happy for him. I’m happy it’s him.
“I think it’s great.”