By Pierre LeBrun
THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO — Only Zdeno Chara and Dion Phaneuf stand in the way of a sixth career Norris Trophy for Nicklas Lidstrom.
The NHL announced the three finalists for the top defenceman award Tuesday and not surprisingly, Lidstrom was yet again in the group after winning the award five of the past six seasons.
The Detroit Red Wings captain, who earned his ninth career nomination, is tied with former Boston great Ray Bourque with five Norris Trophies and No. 6 would leave Lidstrom alone in third place all-time behind arguably the two greatest blue-liners to ever play the game — Doug Harvey (seven Norris Trophies) and Bobby Orr (eight).
With Anaheim Ducks star Scott Niedermayer missing nearly half the season while contemplating retirement, Lidstrom -- who turns 38 next Monday -- doesn't have his usual challenger.
Chara, 31, earned his second career nomination, his first coming in 2004 with the Ottawa Senators when Niedermayer wrestled the award away from Lidstrom. Chara had a career-high 51 points (17-34) in 77 games, had a plus-14 rating and was third in ice time among NHL defencemen at 26:50 per game. He was instrumental in helping the Boston Bruins surprise the experts and make the playoffs.
Phaneuf, 23, also set a career best with 60 points (17-43) in 82 games, fifth among NHL defencemen. He also had a plus-12 rating and played 26:25 a game in only his third NHL season.
But the favourite will once again be Lidstrom, who led all NHL blue-liners with 70 points (10-60) in 76 games and a sensational plus-40 rating, also best among NHL defencemen. He also led the Wings to the stingiest defensive record in the NHL this season.
The Calder Trophy finalists for rookie of the year will be announced Wednesday. The Vezina Trophy nominees were announced Monday.
The Norris Trophy is voted on by selected members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. And fans in Pittsburgh probably won't be happy with the writers as Penguins star Sergei Gonchar failed to earn a nomination. Gonchar, 34, had 65 points (12-53) in 78 games -- second only to Lidstrom and two shy of his career high set five years ago in Washington. He was also plus-13 and played 25:54 a game.
.Brian Campbell of the San Jose Sharks and Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens also had compelling cases.
Campbell, 27, was tied for third in NHL blue-line scoring with 62 points (8-54) in 83 games, coming to San Jose in a trade from Buffalo at the trade deadline. The 62 points were a career high.
Markov, 28, had a career-high 58 points (16-42) in 82 games and was a key component of Montreal's No. 1-ranked power play.