Cook: Red Wings need Datsyuk if they want to win Cup
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Memo to Detroit Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk: Take a shot in that broken foot and get your fanny on the Joe Louis Arena ice tomorrow night. Your team needs you.
If one thing became clear last night in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final, it's that the Red Wings can't match the Penguins' high-end talent -- OK, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby -- without Datsyuk, their Hart Trophy candidate as NHL MVP. That doesn't mean they still can't win the series even after the Penguins appeared to be the much stronger and fresher team in their 4-2 win, which left things all square, two games apiece. They have two of the final three games at home, including the swing Game 5 tomorrow night. They have incredible depth, easily the best in the NHL. And they are the NHL champions until proven otherwise.
All it means is that when Malkin and Crosby are playing like this, the Penguins are going to be a very, very tough out.
"They're unbelievable," defenseman Rob Scuderi was saying in the warm afterglow in the Penguins' locker room. "If they're on their game, there's not much they can't do out there."
Malkin and Crosby had their moments in the first two games -- each a 3-1 loss in Detroit -- but didn't get the results. Malkin failed on a breakaway in Game 1 that could have given the Penguins early control of the series and wasted another great scoring chance in Game 2. Crosby failed to get a point either night even though he set up linemates Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz with terrific chances.
Those results finally came last night.
When they did, the Penguins looked scary good.
"They're able to move people around and create time and space for themselves like few players can," Scuderi said of Malkin and Crosby. "Those are really good NHL defensemen [on Detroit]. I've watched their games on tape. No other guys have been able to do that to them."
Malkin had the best game of anyone in the series, by far, actually. It wasn't just scoring the first goal, pouncing on a fortuitous bounce off the Mellon Arena back boards -- Joe Louis Arena isn't the only rink with lively boards, as it turns out -- to backhand the puck past goaltender Chris Osgood for a power-play score. And it wasn't his terrific assist on a Crosby goal that gave the Penguins a 3-2 lead midway through the second period, a goal he set up by stealing a pass by Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart in the Detroit zone. It was the way he set up linemates Max Talbot and Ruslan Fedotenko twice for what could have been three easy goals. It was his game-high six shots on goal. It was the way he continued the Penguins' physical assault on the Red Wings with five hits. And it was the way he helped them with his faceoffs work, winning four out of five.
At this point, with plenty of hockey still to play, Malkin has to be either 1 or 1A if you're talking Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoffs MVP.
Of course, Crosby is the other man.
Maybe Crosby wasn't quite as prominent as Malkin last night. But he figured spectacularly in the Penguins' final two goals. He chipped in that pass from Malkin for the go-ahead goal, then fewer than four minutes later, he set up an easy score for winger Tyler Kennedy with just about the prettiest pass you'll ever see.
No wonder Detroit winger Kirk Maltby tried to take out Crosby with a cheap slash to the back of the knees in the third period.
"Once we made it 4-2, they really started to show some frustration," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "They're not normally a team that does that."
The Red Wings had their reasons.
Quite simply, they don't have players with the tremendous individual talent of Malkin and Crosby, especially when Marian Hossa -- yeah, him -- is having such a quiet series with no goals and just two assists.
The great Henrik Zetterberg can't carry the Detroit club by himself, especially not when he has to use so much energy following Crosby all over the ice.
I'm guessing Datsyuk knows that.
There was some speculation that Datsyuk was going to play last night, but Detroit management was extra cautious, keeping him out of his seventh consecutive playoff game. Well, the time for caution is over. Datsyuk has no choice but to find a way to play tomorrow night.
If Datsyuk is at all right after the long layoff, he won't just help the Red Wings with their offense and by picking up some valuable minutes from Zetterberg, whom the Penguins insisted looked exhausted last night. Datsyuk is a wonderful two-way player -- as good as any in the NHL -- and will make life a lot tougher for Malkin and Crosby. He'll also be a big help on the wobbly Detroit special teams, which gave up another power-play goal last night -- Malkin's -- and also a killer short-handed goal by the Penguins' Jordan Staal in the second period.
It seems clear, doesn't it?
The Red Wings can win the series with Datsyuk at something near full strength. They can't win it without him.
First Published June 5, 2009 12:00 am