THE WILL TO slog
through an eight-week Stanley Cup campaign isn't an issue for the Red Wings'
Russian-born center who was weaned on the Olympics. When Detroit won in 2002,
his rookie year, Datsyuk likened the experience to watching a beautiful
sunrise. Sunrise. Sunset. After netting three goals in 21 playoff games that
year, he has not scored in his last 21, despite assuming a more central
regular-season role and developing into, roughly, a point-per-game scorer.
Datsyuk had a note from his doctor for last year's shocking first-round loss to
the Edmonton Oilers--he had missed nearly three weeks because of a severe
charley horse before returning for Game 2--but he thinks it's his approach that
needs rehabbing. "I try to pass too much," says Datsyuk, 28, who
through Sunday led the Wings with 84 points this season. "Maybe this year
in the playoffs I'll shoot more and go harder to the net." Says coach Mike
Babcock, "In my opinion he's a dominant player. But you've got to go
through [the playoffs] a few times and maybe not have much success [before]
you're prepared mentally and physically."
AT 6'4" and
235 pounds--and as the reigning Hart Trophy winner--the San Jose Sharks' center
is an especially big target. He had 125 points in 2005--06 but had just two
goals and seven assists in 11 games last spring as the Sharks were upset by
Edmonton in the second round. Thornton has underwhelmed with eight goals and 19
assists in 46 playoff games, including the seven in '04 in which he went
pointless as the Boston Bruins blew a 3--1 series lead to Montreal in the first
round. Although Thornton played through broken ribs, he was, in San Jose coach
Ron Wilson's opinion, "thrown under the bus in Boston," where his
reputation took a hit. "To be honest," says Thornton, "that feels
like ages ago."
Now 27, Thornton,
the Western Conference leader with 109 points, has yet to prove he can be the
fulcrum of a champion. Indeed, he has done some of his best work as an ordinary
Joe, the shutdown checking center for Canada in the 2004 World Cup. Wilson
wants Thornton to make adjustments. "In the past he's been
predictable," the coach says. "He sets up in his office down low. And
if he wants to be stubborn and stay there ... well, what works in the regular
season doesn't always work when all the focus is on stopping you. He'll be
eliminated from the game. He has to make adjustments and be a physical
SINCE THE ATLANTA
Thrashers mortgaged their future (four high draft picks) to get the 6'2",
225-pound, power forward from St. Louis in February, he had scored seven goals
in 15 games through Sunday while filling a chasm at center for a team about to
enter the playoffs for the first time. "It's not about Keith Tkachuk,"
says coach Bob Hartley. "He isn't here in the role of messiah." The
irascible, penalty-prone Tkachuk hasn't been the most solid rock upon which to
build a playoff church. His overall postseason numbers aren't awful--27 goals,
26 assists in 81 games--just subpar. More damning: Tkachuk's teams have won
just three of 14 playoff series, and in 2001, when the Blues reached the
conference final, he had two goals in 15 games. "A lot of things get
factored in," says Tkachuk, 35. "[But] I don't mind the pressure. If I
had a problem with it, I wouldn't have waived my no-trade clause to come
suggests he should also welcome pressure. The winningest goalie in NCAA history
took Michigan to two national titles and two other Frozen Fours in the 1990s.
"He's shown that big-time situations don't fluster him," says
Armstrong. "But it's been a long time since Michigan. We can't keep playing
that trump card." In other words, ancient history. To prevent a repeat of
modern history, Dallas has a 6'3" Plan B in Mike Smith, the Stars' first
homegrown goaltending talent since Turco. Smith has played his share of the
less vital games, but coach Dave Tippett has also started the rookie against
conference powers Vancouver, Nashville and twice each against Detroit and
Anaheim. (Smith is 4--2 in those pressure starts, with two wins over the Ducks.
He is not the type of guy who looks as if he will need the Anaheimlich
Maneuver.) As Tippett said, "One rested. The other ready. One of the
concerns in the past is [Marty had] played too much. That won't be a question
this time." (At week's end Turco had appeared in 64 of 78 games.) If Dallas
draws Detroit in the first round, Turco might have an even slimmer margin of
error; he has defeated the Red Wings once in 15 games.
The past might not
be prologue-- Turco skirted Shakespeare at Ann Arbor--but it is this pro's log,
at least until he can edit his personal playoff history. He enters the
postseason with a clear head if not a clean slate. "[Playoffs failure]
doesn't eat me up," Turco said. "It's motivating, but I know what I do
this time has nothing to do with what I did before.... I want to play almost
instinctively. Foundation and fundamentals are huge parts of my game. For me,
thinking, or lack of thinking, is also huge. The past only induces thinking,
and I've learned to eliminate a lot of that."
formula: shallow in thought, deep in the playoffs.