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Datsyuk is bound and determined to play in Game 4

by Brian Compton
PITTSBURGH -- It's been a frustrating couple of weeks for Hart Trophy finalist Pavel Datsyuk, but it appears as if the Detroit Red Wings' forward is close to returning to the lineup.

Datsyuk has not played since taking a shot on the foot in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks on May 19. He did, however, practice with the Wings on Wednesday afternoon at Mellon Arena and hopes to be in uniform for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS). Detroit suffered a 4-2 loss in Game 3 on Tuesday and now leads the best-of-7 series 2-1.

With a chance to take a 3-1 lead back to Motown, don't be surprised if No. 13 is in the lineup Thursday. He is currently labeled as a game-time decision.

"I'm healthy now," said Datsyuk, who had 32 goals and 65 assists during the regular season. "But we'll make tomorrow a game decision. This is not fun to watch. It's better when you play the game and you be there with your teammates on the ice."

While Datsyuk is eager to get back into action, Detroit coach Mike Babcock was not prepared Wednesday to say that his No. 1 center will be in the lineup for Game 4.

"What we'll do is we'll go for the optional skate in the morning and see how he responded today and see how he felt," Babcock said. "He was still out there well after I got off, so we'll see how he is."

Should Datsyuk be able to play, he would alleviate some of the defensive responsibilities from Henrik Zetterberg, who logged 24:19 of ice time in Game 3. Zetterberg, who had a goal and an assist in the loss, is hopeful to have his fellow two-way forward back in uniform.

"He looked good out there today," Zetterberg said. "Today was the best he's looked out there. He had a big smile on his face the whole practice. That was good to see."

Datsyuk admitted he enjoyed himself on the ice Wednesday, and why not? After all, it's been two weeks since he's been able to play.

"I feel like (I'm) 18 years young, said Datsyuk, who is 1-6-7 in 13 games this postseason. "But I had lots of fun … (it's) exciting wearing the skates. You're looking forward to play in a Stanley Cup Final. I feel more comfortable."

That's good news for the Red Wings' penalty kill, which allowed two power-play goals Tuesday night, including Sergei Gonchar's game-winner with 9:31 to go. Clearly, Datsyuk would give Detroit's special teams a boost.

"We're not sure yet if he's coming back or not, but we know what he brings to the table," Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said of Datsyuk. "He would be a huge help if he's able to play. I thought he looked good. I thought he looked like the old Pav."

Datsyuk would almost certainly be asked to help shut down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- Pittsburgh’s two most dangerous offensive weapons. Malkin had three assists in Game 3, while Crosby picked up an assist for his first point of the series. Whether Datsyuk would play center or wing remains to be seen, but the Russian could really care less.

Just put me in, coach.

"Wing, center, defenseman … I want to play so bad," Datsyuk said. "I don't want to watch this game again."

The feeling is mutual.

"He's a Hart Trophy candidate," Babcock said. "He's one of the best players in the world. Obviously, we'd like to have him, but it's one of those injuries. You have some situations at playoff time, and we have to find a way to overcome (them). We've done a good job."     

"Wing, center, defenseman … I want to play so bad. I don't want to watch this game again." -- Pavel Datsyuk
Veteran forward Kris Draper, a healthy scratch the past two games, will return to Detroit's lineup for Game 4. He will likely replace either Ville Leino or Justin Abdelkader. Tomas Holmstrom and Brian Rafalski did not skate Wednesday, but Babcock said both will play.

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