Known for being deep down the middle, the Detroit Red Wings will find that depth severely tested as they open the Stanley Cup final Saturday at Joe Louis Arena against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Wings will be without two of their regular centres. Hart Trophy finalist Pavel Datsyuk has been ruled out with the foot injury, while a groin strain will keep checking centre Kris Draper on the sidelines.
Datsyuk has missed the last four games, while Draper’s absence will be extended to three games.
On the other hand, the Wings confirmed that both captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who missed the last two games with a lower-body injury and rookie Jonathan Ericsson, who missed Game 5 of the Western Conference final against Chicago after undergoing an appendectomy earlier in the day, would suit up for Game 1.
Detroit will go with the following lines:
Johan Franzen-Henrik Zetterberg-Jiri Hudler
Dan Cleary-Valtteri Filppula-Marian Hossa
Tomas Holmstrom-Darren Helm-Mikael Samuelsson
Ville Leino-Justin Abdelkader-Kirk Maltby
Niklas Kronwall-Brad Stuart
Slow to respond
All four injured players skated Saturday morning, with Datsyuk looking the worst, moving around the ice gingerly, seemingly reluctant to put too much pressure on his injured foot.
Wings coach Mike Babcock indicated he’d hoped to have Datsyuk back on board by now, but his injury has been slow to respond to treatment.
“When he first gets on the ice, especially in the morning, he’s stiff in the foot,” Babcock said. “It takes him a bit to get going.
“We haven’t tested it in a game-time situation where you get there and you get warmed up and you do all that stuff yet. We’ve tried a number of things and it hasn’t responded the way we first anticipated.
“We thought he’d be playing last series. Our medical people are trying everything they can and he’s trying everything he can. He’ll be back as soon as he can. That’s all I can tell you.”
Datsyuk was clearly frustrated by his continued absence. “I want to play, but it’s not my decision,” he said.
Just five days after his appendix was removed, Ericsson will make his Stanley Cup final debut.
“It feels pretty good,” Ericsson said. “Of course, it’s going to hurt. I knew that, but I think I’ll be ready.
“Everything hurts, but the doctors said it’s going to be fine, nothing can get worse. It’s a cut through my muscle, so it’s really tight where the incision was.”
Even Ericsson was a bit shocked that he’d be able to answer the bell.
“From two days ago, it’s a huge improvement,” he said. “Two days ago, my hopes weren’t really there to be playing.”
The return of Lidstrom and Ericsson makes the challenge of matching up against Pittsburgh's one-two punch at centre of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin much easier for the Wings.
Though he wouldn’t confirm it, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is likely to stay with his game plan of dressing seven defencemen and alternating Malkin and Crosby as the fourth-line centre, giving both double duty.
“They way their centres play 20 minutes a game, you need three sets of 'D' to match up against them,” Babcock said.
“What we have with the situation we have, we’ll either have Nick and Raffi, or Kronner [Kronwall] and Stewie [Stuart] against 87 [Crosby] and 71 [Malkin], even if they play in the four hole and that leaves 'Lebs [Lebda] and E [Ericsson] to play against [Jordan] Staal.”
Ericsson is the latest to find out that finding a Stanley Cup game on American television is no easy feat.
He checked himself out of the hospital Wednesday just hours after surgery when he realized he wouldn’t be able to watch Game 5 of the Western Conference final on the hospital cable system, which didn’t carry the Versus network.
“Usually, you spend the night there, but I didn’t have anywhere to watch the game,” Ericsson said. “So they took me in a wheelchair to the car and then I kind of stumbled into the locker-room after my surgery and watched the game in here.
“Afterward, my girlfriend drove me home. I wasn’t allowed to drive.”
Babcock couldn’t resist taking a couple of shots at the National Hockey League, firstly, for its condensing of the start of the Stanley Cup final series, with back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday in Detroit, comparing it to how the National Football League operates the Super Bowl.
“It just seems to me we have two of the greatest teams in the world, star power-wise for the game,” Babcock said. “I don't think we need 14 days off, but there's a reason the NFL who, in my opinion is the biggest promotional horse maybe besides NASCAR in sport, takes two weeks off before the Super Bowl. It's called hyping it up.”
The Wings coach wondered why his team would be given so much time between prior series, but almost none before the league’s marquee event.
“I mean, I could have went bear hunting every series in between games,” Babcock said. “We had a ton of time.”
Babcock also wondered what the defending champion Wings needed to accomplish to get a little attention from the marketing arm of the league, which tends to focus its advertising campaigns around Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.
“Actually, when I watch the commercials from last year, I think they won, not us,” Babcock said. “So I have to check every once in a while to get that figured out.”
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