Pavel Datsyuk's Return Sparks Wings to Blowout

Evan DrexlerContributor IJune 7, 2009

DETROIT - JUNE 06:  Pavel Datsyuk #13 of the Detroit Red Wings in the first period against the Pittsburgh Penguins during Game Five of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Joe Louis Arena on June 6, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Pavel Datsyuk returned, and the hockey world righted itself.

With a 5-0 slaughter of Pittsburgh that started with an assist from Datsyuk and ended with three straight power play goals, Detroit inched closer to defending its Stanley Cup title and proved why it won the Cup last season.

Chris Osgood was perfect in goal, stopping all 22 shots sent his way and even getting an assist on the Red Wings’ second goal.

A sizzling power play, a brick wall of a goalie, and a complete shutdown of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were surely responsible for the win, but Datsyuk’s return was a catalyst for the blowout. Any time a team can put an MVP candidate in the lineup after winning four of seven games without him, that team is in good shape.

And, apparently, Datsyuk wasn’t fully healthy.

“Oh, we rushed him back, believe me,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock told MLive.com. “If this were the regular season, he wouldn’t be playing. But, you know, after a while, what do you save him for? All there is, is summer.”

Defenseman Brian Rafalski, who scored a goal on the power play in the second period on his only shot in the game, even commented in the postgame press conferences that Datsyuk was only at 85 percent, but he’d rather have a Datsyuk at 85 percent than most other players at 100 percent.

“If you watched him all season, you know how much he means to our club,” Dan Cleary—the recipient of Datsyuk’s first-period assist—told The Detroit Free Press. “Tonight was no different—he came back and he was great. He played unbelievable.”

It certainly helped that Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was off his game. After giving up the fifth goal with about four minutes still remaining in the second period, Fleury was replaced by Mathieu Garon, who had only played in one playoff game in his career. The backup did well, not allowing another goal, but he was merely a stopgap in the Penguins' sinking ship.

The Penguins knew it wasn’t so much their goalie as their defense, though. They struggled to challenge the Wings’ forwards while Detroit was on the power play, and Niklas Kronwall got all the time he wanted in front of the net to score his power play goal six minutes into the second period.

“You can’t fault him for a lot of those goals,” Pittsburgh defenseman Mark Eaton told The Detroit Free Press. “There was no support in front of him.”

It was clear as the game went on that the Penguins were getting frustrated. Two straight slashing calls—one on Crosby, the other on Max Talbot—gave Detroit a 5-on-3 that it certainly didn’t need. And at the end of the game, when things were getting out of hand, two different Penguins took 10-minute game misconduct calls. They started looking more like the Chicago Blackhawks after Game Four of their series with Detroit.

Check out these lines from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook:

For a minute there, I thought I was watching the cheap-shot Philadelphia Flyers.

“You’re going to have emotions in a situation where you’re not getting a result,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

Maybe, but I wonder what Bylsma would have said if a Detroit player had slashed, say, Sidney Crosby the way Talbot slashed Detroit star Pavel Datsyuk at the end of the game.

So, the Penguins are on their last legs. Game Six is Tuesday night in Mellon arena, but it’s just as likely that Detroit will be hoisting the cup on Tuesday as it is that Pittsburgh will extend the series to a seventh game.

“It’s 3-2, and I don’t think we’re in that bad of a situation,” Talbot told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “If you would have told me at the start of the year that we’d be down, 3-2, in the Stanley Cup final going back home, I’d take it any day.”

Sure you would, Max. Sure you would.