Talented reserves, rookies enable Detroit to overcome long list of injuries
The two days off between Games 6 and 7 can only help Pavel Datsyuk, middle. Datsyuk missed the first four games of the series with an injured foot, part of the 66 man games Detroit has lost to injury or illness this postseason.
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In the first period of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final Tuesday night, Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit's MVP finalist, made a stunning reverse-course move low in the left circle that had Penguins star center Sidney Crosby flailing behind the play. It allowed Datsyuk to set up a scoring chance for linemate Henrik Zetterberg.
It is doubtful Datsyuk could have maneuvered like that three nights earlier in Game 5, when he returned from a foot injury.
"Pavel's moving along, and it's a good thing for our team," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said yesterday.
It would follow reason that Datsyuk ought to be closer to full health when Detroit and the Penguins meet tomorrow night in Game 7 for the right to dance with the Stanley Cup.
The only injury issues for the Red Wings entering that game apparently are the concussion that has forced defenseman Andreas Lilja to miss all the postseason and a fractured cheek bone that ended center Tomas Kopecky's playoffs 14 games ago.
That's a departure from much of the postseason for Detroit, which has overcome injury and illness to reach the cusp of what would be the Red Wings' second Stanley Cup title in a row.
There's a stark contrast between the Red Wing and Penguins in man-games lost -- and Detroit has at times lost a few of its top players.
Besides Lilja (22 games) and Kopecky (14), the Red Wings were without Datsyuk for seven games, including the final three of the Western Conference final and the first four of this final; highly decorated defenseman and captain Nicklas Lidstrom for the final two games of the conference final because of a lower-body injury; Lidstrom's defense partner, Brian Rafalski, for the first five games of the second round because of an upper-body injury; veteran center and skilled faceoff man Kris Draper for the first 10 games of the postseason because of an upper-body problem, then the final two games of the conference final and the first two games against the Penguins because of a groin injury; and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson for the conference final clincher after having an appendectomy.
That's a total of 66 man games lost -- and that does not include rookie forward Justin Abdelkader, who has been scratched the past three games in part because he was ill.
The Penguins list?
Defenseman Sergei Gonchar missed two games in the second round because of a knee injury.
For the Red Wings, it is the kind of bad luck that could have curtailed their playoff run if not for the job a handful of rookies and lightly-used defensemen Chris Chelios and Derek Meech provided.
"I think our depth has really come through this year," DraperGene said. "I think more than ever from the start of the playoffs to where we are, it's been an unbelievable team effort."
At times in the final, rookies Darren Helm, Ville Leino, Abdelkader and Ericsson have been key components. Abdelkader got his first two NHL goals, Leino two assists, Ericsson a goal, and Helm has a goal, an assist and 37 hits.
"I think both these teams wouldn't be here unless they had good depth," Babcock said. "We're fortunate these guys contributed.
"If you don't have guys coming in that are prepared like [Abdelkader] has and Helm has and Ericsson has and Leino has for us, you can't win. If you take Helm and you take Ericsson and even the contributions of [Abdelkader] and Leino out of the lineup for us, we're not playing."
There have been concessions with top players missing at times.
Like asking your goaltender to take on a heavier workload.
"It doesn't matter what team you play for, if it's a good team or a bad team, you still have to stop the puck when it's shot your way, and when we had the injuries, yeah, I probably saw more quality scoring chances, for sure," Chris Osgood said.
"Do I feel I had to step my game up on certain nights? Yeah, like when Nick was out. And as a veteran guy and older guy, one of my jobs was to lead the younger guys like Ericsson and [Brett] Lebda on defense, stand up and give some leadership and play well.
"So, yeah, I felt a little bit of a bigger role, that I had to be a leader more than I ever had before."
In other cases, it was a matter of filling in for top players by committee.
"You're never going to get one player, one person replacing them," Draper said. "When we lost Nick, the guys stepped up and did an unbelievable job. The same thing with Pav not being able to play.
"The guys have stepped up with playing the games of their lives."
First Published June 11, 2009 12:00 am