Wings show greatness with Datsyuk back

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

DETROIT – Red in the stands, blood in the water.

In a show of force, a sign of dominance, Detroit took one look at Pittsburgh tying the Stanley Cup Finals at two games a piece and mocked their young opponent's ambition.

No, they won't say such a thing – too disciplined, too polite, too Swedish they are.

And by the time Pittsburgh turned the third period of Game 5 into a slash and high stick parade, what did it matter? The point was made. If using a critical game to leave Pittsburgh in critical condition thanks to a 5-0 bludgeoning doesn't say it, nothing will.

The Red Wings are 60 minutes from their 12th Stanley Cup – and fifth in 12 seasons – because when the Penguins dared to turn this from a coronation into a series, Detroit wasn't unnerved as much as annoyed.

No more talk of tired legs. No more weak special-teams play. And perhaps most importantly, no more biding time until Pavel Datsyuk(notes) returned. They sprayed up their star's foot Saturday, getting him back when they needed him most.

"What do you save him for?" Wings coach Mike Babcock asked. "All there is, is summer."

You save him for the middle of the first period, when – bad foot or not – he laid out Evgeni Malkin(notes) with a check and then assisted on the first goal. His full value was fully appreciated. This is one of the guys who turns the wheel here. And when it gets moving there isn't a lot anyone can do – Penguins included.

"(It's like) if (the Penguins) play the series without Malkin and (Sidney) Crosby," Babcock offered.

The Penguins are just plucky enough and just talented enough to still spin this entire thing, win it even, but make no mistake about what went down Saturday on the banks of the Detroit River.

The NHL is all about marketing its stars and Pittsburgh has two of the game's biggest in Malkin and Crosby, the only two teammates ever to each score 30 points in the playoffs.

But its entire teams, organizations even, that win Stanley Cups, and there isn't anything that compares to these Wings.

Great teams don't panic when a star is out. They don't force him back until absolutely necessary, when he's nearly fully healed. Datsyuk, their Hart Trophy finalist, went down in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals and until Pittsburgh evened this series up, there was no need to push his foot to forced recovery.

"We bought time so he can come back and ideally he can get us over the top," Babcock said.

The patience paid off with a return that didn't miss a beat – from his presence in the pregame locker room ("You could see it in the guy's eyes; it's leadership," Dan Cleary said) to postgame when he was still bouncing around in low-rise Reeboks with no socks, joking about whether doctors froze up his foot to get him on the ice.

"I don't know," the Russian smiled. "I'm thinking it's a secret."

It's no secret how critical Pittsburgh thinks Datsyuk's presence is. When the Penguins weren't humbly dragging pucks out of their own net, they were hacking Datsyuk in the ankle hoping he'd go back to street clothes.

What else could they do? While it wasn't a one-on-one battle by any means, they were watching Malkin enter the game with a shot at breaking Wayne Gretzky's playoff scoring record and leaving it with no points, one shot and three frustration-induced penalties. Datsyuk, meanwhile, had two assists.

"This guy is one of the best players in the world both offensively and defensively," Babcock said.

Great teams don't dwell on an opponent's play, brilliant or otherwise. They just play their game, unaffected by words or goals or supposed momentum.

Remember Pittsburgh's three goals in 5:37 of a Game 4 outburst that was supposed to signify the changing of the guard, youth served? The Wings saw it and raised it 33 seconds, knocking home three goals of their own in 5:04 of the second. It wasn't long after that Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) was catcalled out of the Joe.

Great teams don't fall into traps, especially with so much on the line. So when Pittsburgh talked about the Wings looking old and tired before Game 5, Detroit never shot back.

"When we play well do our guys talk about their team like that?" Babcock asked.

Now no one in red was underestimating what the stakes are now and their play showed it.

"You never have a shot to win this thing until you've won three games," Babcock said. "We've won three games."

So when Pittsburgh tried to muck it up in the third with high sticks and slashes and post-whistle scrums, Detroit mostly skated away and used the power plays to kill time. The Red Wings sounded amused at the youthful implosion on the other bench. They even mocked what looked like Maxime Talbot's deliberate attempt to injure Datsyuk with a slash.

"If he is (trying), it didn't bother Pav much," Clearly said.

"I thought they got frustrated, they tried to take it out on some of our players," Lidstrom said. "We kept our cool."

Now they'll try to keep their Cup, looking to wrap up Lord Stanley in Pittsburgh for the second consecutive year.

A year ago they went to Pittsburgh up 3-2, but dealing with a grueling triple-overtime loss in Game 5. That was a game that was supposed to give Pittsburgh all the momentum and hope, to make it a real series.

Detroit snuffed it out, of course, doubling back even stronger. Because that's what great teams do, time and time again.

What to Read Next