CHICAGO (AP) - Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk is one of the NHL’s most feared scorers, a wizard with the puck who is equally adept at setting up his teammates for easy plays. Chicago’s Jonathan Toews has at least 23 goals in each of his six seasons in the league.
If you want to stop a Datsyuk or Toews, well, it sure helps to have a Datsyuk or Toews.
Two of the three finalists for the Frank J. Selke Trophy for the NHL’s best defensive forward are taking center stage as the Red Wings and Blackhawks tangle with a berth in the Western Conference finals on the line, and it’s no coincidence. The league’s top teams count on their forwards to come back and pressure the opponent’s top scorers, not only for defensive purposes but also to create chances on the other end.
“You need those kind of players to win, to be successful. Because you’re going to have times, usually half the time in your shift you’re going to be in your own end or you’re going to have to be defending,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, a former NHL defenseman, “and knowing where you have to go and coming up with loose pucks or forcing these guys to make indirect plays where you get the puck back, there’s a skill involved there and there’s some work that’s involved.”
Datsyuk and Toews will be back on the ice when Chicago hosts Detroit in Game 2 on Saturday afternoon.
The Blackhawks used a dominant final two periods to beat the Red Wings 4-1 on Wednesday night, shutting down Detroit’s leading trio of Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen Datsyuk played more than 21 minutes, but was held without a point and did not attempt a shot after he had two goals and five assists in the first round against Anaheim.
Datsyuk’s struggles against the Blackhawks are nothing new. He didn’t have a point in four regular season games versus Chicago and also failed to register a shot in the final two. Combined with the opener, Datsyuk has now gone almost exactly 60 minutes of ice time without putting a shot on night against the Blackhawks.
“He’s going to be a top player in this series. We know that. They know that,” forward Patrick Sharp said after Chicago practiced on Friday. “It’s just hopefully we can contain him in some way.”
Datsyuk had 15 goals and 34 assists in 47 games this season, helping Detroit reach the playoffs for the 22nd straight season. The three-time Selke winner also tied Toews for the NHL lead with 56 takeaways and won 55 percent of his faceoffs.
The 34-year-old Russian center, who was selected in the sixth round of the 1998 draft, is way more than just an offensive wizard.
“He can come out of nowhere and steal the puck from you and make a play, and before you know it, it’s in your net,” Toews said. “He’s as skilled as they come on both sides of the puck and obviously a tough guy. You’ve got to go out there and try to outwork him every shift, because it’s tough to outclass him any other way.”
Toews is coming off another solid season, when he tied Patrick Kane for the team lead with 23 goals and also contributed 25 assists in 47 games. The captain also had career-high plus-28 rating as Chicago captured the Presidents’ Trophy awarded to the team with the most points in the regular season.
“We play same type of game,” Datsyuk said. “We fight every year against each other. It’s not easy. When a good player plays against a good player every time they make each other better.”
The Red Wings are desperate for anything to make themselves better after being outshot 42-21 - 36-14 over the final two periods - in the opener, and they may get a boost up front Saturday. Forward Drew Miller has pronounced himself ready to return after missing four weeks with a broken thumb.
Though he says he doesn’t feel 100 percent, Miller - one of Detroit’s regular penalty killers - believes he can help.
“If Drew Miller’s in a position to help our team (Saturday), he’ll play,” Babcock told the team’s official website.
Detroit needs to figure out why it seems to wear down toward the end of games. Fifteen of the 25 goals the Red Wings have allowed in the playoffs have come in the third period, including three Chicago tallies on Wednesday.
“I saw us practice (Tuesday) and I wasn’t surprised when I saw us (in Game 1),” Babcock said. “I didn’t think we were very quick and executed. We’re not trying to take anything away from them. They were better than us. The score (Wednesday) was more than fair as far as I’m concerned. They were better.”
It’s unclear if Viktor Stalberg will join them in the lineup. The speedy winger worked outside of the top four lines in practice once again after being benched for Game 1, and he said Quenneville wants him “to produce more and be more effective.”
One area where Detroit would like to be more effective is on its power play, which produced six goals in the first round. But the Red Wings went 0 for 3 in the opener as Chicago extended its impressive streak of successful penalty kills to 29 dating to April 22.