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Datsyuk still making magic for Wings

by Dave Lozo
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- There was Pavel Datsyuk, the stickhandling magician, moving effortlessly and seemingly harmlessly down the right wing Friday night.

There was Douglas Murray, in good defensive position against Datsyuk, backing up slowly but not allowing Datsyuk the space and time he needs to make a play.

Datsyuk dipped his shoulder as if he was going wide, perhaps to swing behind the net, causing Murray to turn his body and begin his pursuit toward the goal line.

That was last the time Murray was anywhere close. The second he took a false stride toward the boards, Datsyuk cut back to the middle, glided to the slot and fired a quick wrist shot that had to be stopped by Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi.

"That's one of those things where he goes wide and used my stick to protect for the pass and I kind of leaned to the left and he goes inside," Murray said. "I have to be a little more patient in that situation."

It was just one of the many times the Red Wings' superstar showed why "Datsyukian" is the only way to describe his unique ability to weave with through defenders with grace and ease to create plays no one else can even imagine.

Defenseman Dan Boyle, who along with Murray had the bulk of the ice time against Datsyuk during Friday's Game 1, said you have to take special care against such a special player.

"You do take a different approach," Boyle said. "He's the best 1-on-1 player in the game. Positioning is absolutely the most important thing. You can't go in lunging and try to knock him off the puck, because he's that good. He's not the biggest player in the world, but he's that strong and that good."

Now that Datsyuk is back on a line with Henrik Zetterberg, who missed the Red Wings' first-round sweep of the Phoenix Coyotes due to a knee injury, it's a combination of skill, intelligence and familiarity not many teams can boast.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan respects the capabilities of the duo, but believes it works to his benefit when Red Wings coach Mike Babcock doesn't place them on separate lines.

"They're two dynamic players. When you put them together, they're dangerous all over the ice," said McLellan, who coached both as an assistant with the Wings before coming to San Jose in 2008. "I thought Pavel was maybe the most dangerous player on the ice in Game 1, as he is most nights. But when they're together, it doesn't alleviate the pressure from the other lines, but we have one less guy to worry about. If we can play well against one line, and have the other lines win the battles, we're fine.

"If they do get split up, now you've got to worry about them on different lines and maybe have a few more problems."

Their line, along with Tomas Holmstrom, scored the Red Wings' only goal in Game 1 thanks to thievery and vision of Datsyuk. Boyle's pass up the boards was picked off by Datsyuk, who turned and worked his way toward the blue line. That's when the magic happened.

Datsyuk flipped an aerial backhand pass that eluded Sharks captain Joe Thornton and came to rest on the stick of a cutting Nicklas Lidstrom, who ripped a quick shot from the slot that beat Niemi to the glove side.

Just when it looked like nothing was happening, Datsyuk made something happen. It's the type of play fans may take for granted, but it's something that's made possible by not only having players with the skill of Zetterberg and Lidstrom, but also the intelligence to read off one another and get to open areas.

Once Zetterberg is completely up to speed after sitting out since April 6, that line might be even better than it was in Game 1, when it combined for eight of Detroit's 20 shots on goal.

"When Z's going and he's healthy, he's one of the best players in the world," Babcock said. "When you're back and you're ready, you still have to play a game. He'll skate way better today than he would've yesterday and he'll skate way better tomorrow."

Babcock's answer when asked if there was a chance he'd split Datsyuk and Zetterberg for Game 2 probably wasn't what McLellan wanted to hear.

"None," Babcock said.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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