Red Wings' Locker Room: Datsyuk's return triggers huge boost, high praise



DETROIT -- Pavel Datsyuk was not the biggest difference for Detroit last night -- that honor likely would go to goaltender Chris Osgood -- but there was no lack of relief and high regard coming from the Red Wings' locker room.

"I'll take 85 percent of Pavel Datsyuk over 100 percent of a lot of other guys," defenseman Brian Rafalski said.

It is hard to know just how recovered Datsyuk is from a foot injury -- "I don't have any percentage; how much I have, I try to play with," he said -- but other numbers looked good for him after the Red Wings' 5-0 shutout against the Penguins in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final at Joe Louis Arena.

Datsyuk played a healthy-looking 17:38, including 4:21 on the power play. He had two assists, a plus-minus rating of plus-2, two shots, four hits and four takeaways in his first game since he was injured by a shot May 21.

He centered for wingers Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary and often was on the ice with Penguins center Sidney Crosby.

Crosby and the Penguins' other world-class center, Evgeni Malkin, had frustrating nights with no points and a combined eight penalty minutes.

Datsyuk, meanwhile, had the 14th multi-point postseason game of his career and promised he would improve as he continues to play while waiting for the foot to improve.

"When I play more, I [will] feel better," he said.

Which could be as daunting for the Penguins as it is welcome for the Red Wings, who lead the series, 3-2.

"This guy's one of the best players in the world, both offensively and defensively," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "We were able to have success, but it's been much harder. We bought time without him."

Datsyuk, 30, is a first-time finalist for the Hart Trophy as league MVP after finishing fourth in the NHL during the regular season with 97 points. He is also a finalist for the Lester Pearson Award (most outstanding player, determined by NHL players), the Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) and the Lady Byng Trophy (skill and sportsmanship).

He has won the Lady Byng the past four seasons and is up for his second Selke Trophy.

Although he entered last night with a somewhat paltry one goal, seven points in 13 playoff games, he had an assist in three consecutive games at the time he was hurt.

Babcock often puts Datsyuk and Zetterberg together when his team needs a spark, much the way Crosby and Malkin sometimes are used on the same line, and Detroit needed a lift after losing Games 3 and 4 on the road.

"He was great on the puck," Cleary said. "He made a lot of plays. He was physical."

Datsyuk impressed the Penguins.

"He's such a great player," Penguins winger Bill Guerin said. "He can do such great things with hands, but he could probably play on one leg."

After days of being close, of reports he might play, of skating, Datsyuk did not become a certainty to play in this series until yesterday.

"I watched him in the [morning] skate. I mean, he doesn't look like Pavel," Babcock said, adding that "he seems to be tolerating it now."

Datsyuk declined to say whether he was having the foot numbed by an injection. "It's a secret," he said.

Babcock figured correctly that the opportunity to play in the Stanley Cup final would be enough to override whatever pain or trouble maneuvering Datsyuk might have.

"We wouldn't go with him at 50 percent," Babcock said, alluding to the fact Datsyuk is more healthy than that, "but ... you never know what adrenaline's going to do."

Earlier in the day, Babcock planned on using Datsyuk on the wing and, if things seemed OK, moving him to center. Instead, Datsyuk was out at center on Detroit's second shift of the game.

The coach said he knew pretty quickly Datsyuk was OK, thanks to a shift that gave the Red Wings a 1-0 lead at 13:32 of the first period.

"[Rafalski] made a great outlet pass to Pav, and he was calm and through the neutral zone and able to set up Cleary [for a goal]," Babcock said.

Datsyuk later got the first assist on Rafalski's second-period power-play goal.

"He brought a lot of energy, on and off the ice," Zetterberg said.




Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721. First Published June 7, 2009 5:45 AM


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