-- He's no Pavel Datsyuk
. But then how many of those are there?
As Detroit Red Wings
center Henrik Zetterberg
did a dash through the dressing room comparable to that of Olympic 100, 200-meter champion Usain Bolt Sunday, I managed to ask him how Valtteri Filppula
compares to Datsyuk.
"Different name, but really, really good," Zetterberg explained just before he disappeared behind a curtain, "and getting more confident in his ability all the time."
With Datsyuk out of the lineup for the second-straight game, Filppula ran his playoff points streak to five games with 1 goal and 2 assists to spark the Red Wings to a 6-1 in over the Blackhawks in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, giving the Wings a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
The three points for Valtteri gave him 1 goal and 12 assists in 15 playoff games this season -- or two more points than he had in 22 games in last year's playoffs.
Filppula helped take the Chicago crowd out of the game early, when he and Marian Hossa
broke out 2 on 1 and gave the Red Wings a 1-0 lead on a shorthanded goal 8:41 into the game. Just 1:13 into the second period, Valtteri rammed home a Hossa rebound for a 3-0 lead. And he set up Hossa for his second goal of the game just 12 seconds after the Blackhawks got their only goal early in the second period, a killer that made it 4-1.
Best game, Val? And have you put any pressure on yourself trying to fill in for Datsyuk between Tomas Holmstrom
and Marian Hossa
"I don't get too caught up in stuff like that," he said. "What is
amazing is getting a chance in practice to fill in with all the great
talents the Red Wings have assembled. It's really something to see how you stack up against some of the most talented players in the world on a daily basis.
"In this situation, playing for Pav, I look at it as a challenge. I look at is as a chance to see how much I'm improving."
It wasn't long ago that I asked Red Wings coach Mike Babcock how he thought Filppula was coming along to which he said, "Once Phil learns that he needs to shoot more to make himself a more complete player, I think he’ll become a real threat. You know something, his skills remind me a little of Hank when he first came into the NHL."
After overhearing Babcock make that remark and figuring out that “Phil” was Filppula and “Hank” was Zetterberg, you get the idea that the coach likes his 25-year-old center from Vantaa, Finland, plenty.
At one point early last season, after Filppula, a third-round pick, 95th overall, in the 2002 Entry Draft, had no goals in his first 10 games, he then exploded for six goals in five games in a stretch when he had counted nine goals in 10 games.
"The kid has size, speed ... and great skill," Nicklas Lidstrom
explained after Filppula went from the third line to the No. 1 line with Holmstrom and Hossa in Game 3.
Funny how the Red Wings find these nearly “Finn-ished” products with such great talent, isn’t it?
The story on this forward is typical. Filppula followed his older
brother Ilari, who currently plays in the Finnish Elite League, to the rink. He lived to play hockey. He had posters of Teemu Selanne
and Saku Koivu
in his room back home.
"My parents were the driving force," Valtteri said. "My brother and I got our athletic ability from my dad, who played Finnish baseball. And my mom ... she’s a teacher ... and she made sure both of us learned more than just one language, so we could succeed in the world. That has become very, very important to me."
Raineri Filppula, Val’s father, currently works as an electrical
engineer. His mom, Liisa, still is a kindergarten teacher.
Filppula wasn’t one of those too-small prospects the Red Wings dug up late in the 1998 and 1999 drafts, when they selected Datsyuk 171st in 1998 and Zetterberg 210th the following year. He's 6-foot, 193 pounds. But there still were some anxious moments for him.
"I had a pretty good year scoring in my final year in the Finnish Elite League (10 goals and 30 points, plus another 11 points in 12 playoff games for Jokerit Helsinki in 2004-05), but when I got to North America ... it was like the walls were closing in on me ... no room to move on the smaller ice surface over here," Filppula added. "I didn’t know if I’d make it here."
Make it he did, scoring 20 goals and 50 points in 74 games at AHL Grand Rapids in the 2005-06 season. He had 10 goals and 17 points in this first full season with the Red Wings the next year and followed that with 19 goals and 17 assists last season and 12 goals and 28 assists this season in Detroit.
And when Babcock tapped Filppula on the shoulder to move from his normal line with Jiri Hudler
and Mikael Samuelsson
to play with Hossa and Holmstrom, he cited Valtteri's speed and playmaking ability as what he wanted from him in this situation.