So far there have been some obvious standouts for Detroit in their quest for the Cup—and current quest to dig themselves out of a 3-0 series hole.
Pavel Datsyuk has been nothing but pure hustle n' flow for the Red Wings. Every time he is on the ice it seems that he is dictating the play and creating time and space for his teammates.
Jimmy Howard has been (I'm running out of adjectives to be honest... let's try..) transcendent in his play and is arguably the only reason the Wings are still standing in their current series.
He hasn't stolen any games, but he is making big stops when he needs to. Anytime your goaltender is making 30 or 35 stops a game he is doing his job.
Lidstrom has proven that he still has plenty left in the tank with his outstanding play.
But who are the other guys? The guys playing in the large shadows that the Nos. 13, 40, and 5 cast? Let's take a minute to appreciate the five guys that are currently playing their butts off and not getting quite enough attention for it.
Here is Detroit's five biggest unsung heroes thus far. In no particular order...
Was that really Todd Bertuzzi?
You betcha'. And anyone who has been watching the Wings so far during these playoffs shouldn't be too surprised. Todd has been rock solid at both ends of the ice, sporting a plus-1 rating to go along with his 6 points which is good for 4th on the team.
He hasn't just been a scoring threat though. He's also been physical when needed, and even dropped the gloves early against Phoenix while the Desert Dogs were intent on running the Wings off with physical play, helping to set the tone in the first game.
At that point, Detroit hadn't asserted itself yet, skating to a tie into the middle of the 2nd period. Todd's scrap brought the Joe back to life, and has prompted the home crowd to chant his name on a few occasions since.
If Bertuzzi continues to play with this kind of tenacity coupled with timely goal scoring he will certainly endear himself further to fans, and the Wings will be just that much more dangerous.
The depth lines for Detroit have been outstanding through the first round and a half, and Eaves is no exception.
Pop quiz: Who is tied for second on the Red Wings in goals scored in these playoffs along with Datsyuk, and Holmstrom?? Bet you wouldn't have guessed Eaves unless he was in this slide here. I know I wouldn't have.
But Eaves has been a boon on the power play, with all three of his markers coming on the man advantage. Babcock has never been afraid to experiment with his role guys, and he may be onto something with using Patrick on the power play.
Having him skate along with the top forwards really adds a dimension to the power play, and creates a little extra space for guys like Pav, Hank, and Homer to play their games. He's also been very strong on the penalty kill.
Patrick Eaves: Special teams extraordinaire. Who would have thought. Not me, and certainly not the Coyotes or the Sharks.
Niklas Kronwall has always been known for stepping up at the blue lines and making huge open ice hits. A lot of people still remember this gargantuan hit on Marty Havlat from a few years back.
That'll leave... a bit of a mark. Yikes.
During the first round I believe we saw the Kronwall the Wings thought they were drafting with their first round pick in 2000—somewhat of a Lidstrom replacement. Granted no one can replace No. 5, but Kronwall was supposed to be one of the guys to lesson the blow when he finally retires.
If Lidstrom decides to hang them up this summer I'll be a bit more comfortable with it now that Kronwall has rounded out his game. He is still making big hits like this one on Ryan Clowe while playing outstanding in his own zone (he currently stands at plus 5 during the playoffs), suddenly able to pick his spots on both sides of the puck.
It may have taken a little bit longer than expected, but the "Kronwaller" has finally turned into a top pairing NHL blueliner. He's as strong with his stick and positioning as he is with his shoulder.
This is an odd slide for me to type out to be honest. If you hang out with me (should you be so lucky!) while I'm watching a Wing's game, a common phrase you'd hear shouted at least once is a good, hearty "DamnitValtteri!"
When Scotty Bowman departed for the Chicago Blackhawks to hang out with his newly anointed GM son, he claimed that Val had the most raw potential player on the Red Wings roster. I think we were looking at the same guy, weren't we?
I don't know if he has just been a personal scapegoat of mine, but I feel like the guy just doesn't tend to make awesome choices with the puck. He seems to shy away from contact, and is afraid to make the gutsy (risky?) play.
While Pav protects the puck with his body and finds the trailer, it always seemed like Val was pulling up at the blueline, and either dumping the puck in or making a pass that really didn't progress the rush down the ice.
He never seemed to have a finishing touch, and was a half-step slower than most of the other players on the ice.
All these perceptions came crashing down on me literally 24 hours ago. I was sitting at Applebee's watching the last five minutes of the game, and who was out there stripping pucks, forcing turnovers, and forchecking like his season depended on it—perhaps because it did?
Yeah. Val. Good ol' 'DamnitValtteri!" suddenly had me singing (writing) his praises.
Players can create identities for themselves in single shifts, especially come playoff time. I think we are witnessing the birth of the player Bowman saw years ahead of us. Scotty always did have a pretty good eye for talent.
I can't come up with enough positive things to say about Danny Cleary. I'll write an entire, long-winded, wordy article about it over the summer when news is slow and the playoffs are a fading memory.
But right this second, he's going to get his own slide to round out Detroit's five most underrated players during these playoffs.
It's because of efforts like this that I believe the Red Wings have a fighting chance to come back and win this series against the Sharks. Because of plays like this, in times like these, with a player like that.
Can't ask for much more from a depth player like Danny. Always standing in front of the net. Always making an impact somewhere. He rarely, if ever, is outworked for the puck. He's a dog on the backcheck and forecheck, will lay down in front of shots and stick up for team mates.
He is the consummate Red Wing once the playoffs come around. If I could clone him I'd take six of him.
Cleary has six points, one game-winner, and will be a large part of any comeback Detroit manages to mount from this point onward.
The best defenders on the other team obviously have to tend to managing the skill of guys like Zetterberg and Datsyuk. They generally have a harder time making up the gap between their work ethic and Dan's.
He's a timely goal scorer who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, when the Wings badly need a goal. He's persistent, and commonly sees the payoff in the playoffs.