After playing 56-plus minutes of taut, low-risk hockey, the game was turned on its heels by a moment of sheer brilliance from Datsyuk, the skilled Detroit center who has become famous for such plays. So much so, in fact, he has earned the nickname "Magic Man."
Datsyuk added to his legend with a dazzling display of skill that enabled Detroit to steal a 1-0 victory in the opening game of the Eastern Conference First Round series and, in the process, grab home-ice advantage from the Bruins, who are the top seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs by virtue of winning the Presidents' Trophy.
As the clock approached three minutes remaining in regulation, Datsyuk's linemate Johan Franzen gained control of the puck in his own zone. Wisely, he attempted to get the puck to Datsyuk moving across his own blue line. The pass, though, was behind Datsyuk. Not a problem for Datsyuk, who reached back with one hand on his stick and pushed the puck between his legs as he eluded a Boston checker. Then, in the same motion, he accelerated into the attacking zone against Boston's best defenseman, Zdeno Chara.
The other wing on the line, Justin Abdelkader, stormed ahead of Datsyuk, pushing the other Boston defenseman back and opening up one of the rare shooting lanes afforded during a tight-checking game. In the blink of an eye, he snapped his wrists and lasered a shot past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask's glove with 3:01 remaining.
Datsyuk never even raised his hands in celebration. He didn't have to. He knew what it meant.
Boston defenseman Corey Potter described the goal as "a dagger."
The Bruins never got another shot, not even after pulling Rask for the final 63 seconds of the game. Now, they face a hugely important Game 2 on Sunday. There is no appetite to go to Detroit down two games in this series.
Regardless of what happens Sunday, Detroit will hold home-ice advantage thanks to the game-changing antics of its most-skilled player. Detroit had two Grade-A chances in the third period. Rask denied Darren Helm on the first. Datsyuk scored on the second, despite being matched up against Chara, the Norris Trophy-worthy defenseman and Patrice Bergeron, the Selke Trophy-worthy center.
"Well, he was by himself there, and so I'm just thinking a shot, and he drags it across and releases from his legs," Rask said, talking his way through the play. "You just try to get the puck in your eyes, and I couldn't. Usually he tries to make a pass, but I thought he was by himself there."
These plays, as unbelievable as they are, have become almost commonplace for the Red Wings. They expect the unimaginable from Datsyuk, even when he isn't 100 percent. Datsyuk has played 10 NHL games since Jan. 1, his effectiveness severely compromised by a knee injury.
"I've had him for a long time, and obviously he's a world-class player and he's coming back from an injury, which is obvious when you see him out there," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "But he can still do some very good things and he knows how to play without the puck. He's playing against a good player. [Bergeron] is a heck of player and knows how to play and makes it hard on you."
Not hard enough, though. Datsyuk needs only the smallest of openings. He got one with time running out and made it count; like he always seems to do.
"Yeah, not bad," said Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who has played with Datsyuk in Detroit for a decade and is allowed to undersell his teammate's heroics. "The puck was probably 4 or 5 feet behind him and he was able to pick it up, do things that no one else can do, we've seen it before and he did it again."
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