Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has to deal with facts, not emotion.
The facts for Saturday's Game 1 (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio) of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final are that Babcock's team will be without star center Pavel Datsyuk
(foot injury) and Kris Draper
, who has a groin pull. Defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom
(lower-body injury) and Jonathan Ericsson
(appendectomy), meanwhile, are available for the game against Pittsburgh at Joe Louis Arena.
The loss of Datsyuk is particularly difficult for the Wings to take and it is taking an emotional toll on Datsyuk, as well.
Not only is Datsyuk -- up for three end-of-season League awards, including MVP -- a catalyst in the offensive zone, but he is the team's best defensive forward. Babcock said Friday that when he plays, Datsyuk might hold onto the puck for 18 minutes a game because of his elite skill level.
But reality must supersede emotions at this point and Babcock understands he can only go with the healthy bodies he has at his disposal. So Ville Leino
and Justin Abdelkader
will be plugged into the lineup to replace the two injured forwards.
"We'd like to have him, but we don't have him," Babcock said after Saturday's morning skate. "The way we talk about it here, when you put on the uniform you're expected to play well. He's not going to have one on tonight, so he'll be a little more nervous than the rest of us probably."
The fact that Datsyuk won't be in uniform against the Pittsburgh Penguins
is tearing up the proud Russian superstar.
"Everybody wants to go and I am the same way," Datsyuk said after the skate, before being ruled out by his coach. "I want to go so bad."
But his foot hasn't responded as fast of the Wings would like. He injured it blocking a shot in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals and has not played since. He skated Saturday morning and reported improvement, but just not enough to merit his inclusion in the Game 1 lineup.
"When he first gets on the ice, he's stiff to get his foot going," Babcock said. "We haven't tested it in a game-time situation, where he will be able to get there, get warmed up and all that stuff. We have tried a number of things, but it hasn't responded the way we first anticipated.
"We thought he was playing last series, so our medical people are trying everything they can and he's doing what he can and he'll be back as soon as he can. That's all I can tell you."
Lidstrom declared himself healthy during Friday's Media Day, but Ericsson's status was still up in the air. But the Swedish defensemen took part in the morning skate and declared he was ready to go, less than 72 hours after having his appendix removed.
"It's going to be sore there for a while," Ericsson said. "Doctor told me it's not going to get worse, it's just a matter of pain. I just have that in my mind and everything should be fine. They told me before they took it out that I might have a chance to play Saturday and I'm just impressed how they are doing that."
Ericsson's return to the lineup is a boon for the Red Wings; helping them better defend against Pittsburgh's three-headed monster at center -- Sidney Crosby
, Evgeni Malkin
and Jordan Staal
. Those three centers take turns playing pivot on the fourth line in the 11-forward alignment the team has used for the past seven games.
Ericsson will play with Bret Lebda, while Lidstrom play with Brian Rafalski
and Niklas Kronwall
and Brad Stuart
form another pair.
"The way their centers play 20 minutes a game, you need two sets of D for them," Babcock said. "So the situation we have, we'll either have Nick and Raf or Kroner and Stewie against either 87 (Crosby) or 71 (Malkin) and that leaves E and Lebs to play against Staal."