Datsyuk, Draper looming over pivotal Game 4
Pavel Datsyuk (game-time decision) skated and will may bring Wings needed help
Kris Draper will replace Justin Abdelkader to boost Wings' struggling penalty kill
Penguins are still stinging from pivotal Game 4 loss in last year's Cup final
PITTSBURGH -- The official word is that Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk will be a game-time decision tonight. Head coach Mike Babcock says it's up to the Hart Trophy finalist to decide if he's ready to roll in Game 4 at Mellon Arena, where the Pittsburgh Penguins will try to tie up the series.
"When Pav's ready, he's playing," Babcock said. "When that foot allows him to have some pop, he's playing."
From his own comments yesterday, Datsyuk will be doing everything he can to make it on the ice. "I want to play so bad," he said. "I don't want to watch this game again." And from the looks of it -- he skated this morning and was among the last guys off the ice -- he's feeling good and ready to go.
Having Datsyuk back, even if his ice time is limited, will be a big help for Babcock. Not only will Datsyuk add another scoring threat to the lineup -- he led the team with 97 points this season -- he's also remarkably responsible on the defensive side, and therefore gives Babcock another option to put out against Pittsburgh's top scorers. That will alleviate the burden of responsibility on Henrik Zetterberg, who's had to up his minutes as Detroit tries to keep Sidney Crosby in a muzzle. Although Zetterberg says he doesn't feel any more tired after logging over 24 minutes in Game 3, surely spreading the workload wouldn't have much ill effect on the center.
Although they remain wishy-washy on Datsyuk's status, the Red Wings will welcome veteran Kris Draper back to the lineup. The center, who's been out with a groin injury since Game 3 of the Western Conference Final, will add some much-needed skill on the penalty kill, which allowed two goals to the Penguins on Tuesday. Draper, a face-off specialist, will likely help the Red Wings do better on the draw, especially on the PK.
Detroit went 5-for-16 on face-offs in the defensive zone in Game 3, including 1-for-5 when Pittsburgh was on the power play. Ceding possession right from the start, they allowed the Penguins to get structured quickly and maximize their time with the man advantage, and for that, they paid the price twice.
With Draper in the lineup, Justin Abdelkader will be abdicated from the lineup in Game 4. The rookie left wing has scored two goals in his first Stanley Cup Final, getting third-period insurance goals in both Game 1 and 2.
Game 4 will be especially pivotal for the Penguins if they want to make this series different from what we all saw a year ago. They still think about last year's Game 4, when they were down a goal in the third period and failed to score on a golden opportunity: a 5-on-3 for about 1:26.
"It not only turned that game around, it turned the series around," winger Max Talbot said. "If you score, it might've been a different story."
The failure to seize that chance still stings, but it was impossible not to commend Zetterberg, who was absolutely brilliant during that game-changing kill. They began etching his name into the Conn Smythe Trophy as those penalties wound down.
For all the talk that this series is repeating itself, this will be the game to decide if things will be the same or if the Penguins can cut the cycle.