After every Red Wings’ score, Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has a habit of skating to the corner to try to get his anger out. Saturday night, there were a lot of quick trips. The Wings would score, Fleury would skate to the corner – and into a sea of Wings fans cheering and banging the glass. Finding no relief, he’d curl back to his net.
He did this after the first, the second, the third and the fourth Detroit goals. Finally, after the fifth, he took a longer skate – all the way to his bench, clomping through the door, and headed down the tunnel, done for the night.
It was D-Day on the calendar, and Pittsburgh, too, must have felt as if it were being swarmed and stormed by a sea of red soldiers. But the acronym had a whole second meaning for the Wings, now one victory from another Stanley Cup.
Well, yes. That, too.
Another twist in the road
Remember, the Wings left Detroit last Sunday in firm control of these finals, both hands on the wheel. They entered Saturday swerving all over the place, pistons misfiring, shocks not absorbing, suddenly tied, 2-2, and looking tired and ineffective in things at which they normally are effective.
A pit stop was clearly in order. Maybe a tune-up. Maybe a new part or two.
OK. A semi-new part.
Pavel Datsyuk took the ice to a thunderous ovation – after 2 1/2 weeks out with a mysteriously guarded injury. He skated to a ringing chorus of “DAT-SOOK! DAT-SOOK!” And 13:32 into Game 5, he flipped the puck to Dan Cleary, who fired it past Fleury for the first goal – and the first 1-0 lead for Detroit all series.
And the following period, Datsyuk fed Brain Rafalski for a rising shot that gave Detroit a 4-0 lead.
And by the time the final horn sounded, Datsyuk was in, Fleury was gone, and a Cup was a victory away.
“I feel good today,” Datsyuk said after the 5-0 victory. “And when I play more, I feel better.”
Now, it’s not as if Datsyuk (17:38 of ice time) carried the Wings on his back. He was rusty at first, and a mortal version of himself even later. But his presence was like a chiropractic adjustment for the Wings; it put steam in their stride. They played with more confidence and more energy. Hey. Just seeing Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in the same frame, exchanging the puck behind the Pens’ goal, reminds you that Pittsburgh isn’t the only team with two superstars. Crosby? Malkin?
And just as Detroit bathed in what had been Penguins stardust, the Penguins did pretty much everything the Wings were guilty of in Game 4. They gave up three second-period goals in less than 7 minutes. And they totally lost their composure.
Evgeni Malkin took a stupid penalty, elbowing Johan Franzen. The Wings scored on the power play. Chris Kunitz made a dumb move trying to face-wash Darren Helm. The Wings scored on the power play.
Even Sidney Crosby succumbed to the flu of silliness, slashing Zetterberg in clear view. And by the way, if you noticed that’s the first time I’ve mentioned Crosby, well, he really didn’t warrant being mentioned before. He may have electrified in Pittsburgh, but clearly they use different current in Detroit. Crosby finished minus-2 with one shot on goal. Malkin – a Game 4 monster – had one shot and 6 penalty minutes.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, this time, when the Wings were shorthanded, they killed their penalties – avoiding the too-cute passes and simply flicking the puck down the ice, over and over.
And so now, the Wings are on the doorstep, two chances to jump on the throne. Don’t be disappointed if they need both. Even with their often-lousy play Saturday, the Pens had moments of dominance and flashes of why you can’t rest against them. One key will be how fast Fleury recovers from the shellacking he took. Chris Osgood was the polar opposite – impenetrable all night. That’s huge.
There are two days between the remaining games. That’s good for Detroit. Datsyuk’s back. That’s better.
“If this were the regular season, he wouldn’t be playing,” coach Mike Babcock admitted. “After a while, what are you saving him for? All there is is summer.”
Summer is one day closer. But so is the Cup.