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playoffs

Datsyuk looking to make some more magic

Red Wings forward has Lightning on edge starting final playoff run

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

TAMPA -- This could be the last act of the "Magic Man." Unless the Detroit Red Wings can talk him out of it, Pavel Datsyuk will retire from the NHL after the Stanley Cup Playoffs and go home to Russia even though he has a season left on his contract.

It's easy to say we should soak it up. It's easy to say we should appreciate Datsyuk's skill, creativity and hustle while we can.

We aren't on the ice. We aren't the Tampa Bay Lightning, who face Datsyuk in the Eastern Conference First Round starting with Game 1 on Wednesday at Amalie Arena (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, FS-D, FS-F).

How would you like to be on stage with a magician, knowing he could pull a quarter from your ear and saw you in half while escaping from your shackles?

Video: DET@DAL: Datsyuk smacks rebound into net for the win

You think you have him tied up, and Datsyuk will make the puck disappear off your stick and reappear in your net, just like that.

Not only can Datsyuk beat you, he can embarrass you. Not only can he embarrass you, he can embarrass you for eternity. One play can turn into thousands of replays, living forever on TV and in cyberspace.

"Just look at his highlight tape," Lightning center Brian Boyle said. "Hopefully I'm not on it."

Marty Turco is on it. Datsyuk once took a pass and broke in alone on the Dallas Stars goaltender. Datsyuk turned his lower body right and his upper body left. A left-handed shot, he started on his forehand then drew the puck across on his backhand. As Turco flailed to the left, Datsyuk darted right and put the puck into a wide-open net. Now you see it; now you don't.

Video: COL@DET: Datsyuk ties it on the power play

"His edges are ridiculous," Boyle said. "His strength on his skates is off the charts. He makes it look like he's going that way and he goes the other way. … His legs and his upper body are completely independent, and then you have his hands, the third part."

Roman Josi is on it. The Nashville Predators defenseman once held the puck behind the net. He thought he could use his body as a shield as Datsyuk approached from behind. Nope. Datsyuk put his stick to the left of Josi's body, then the right. He lifted Josi's stick, stole the puck and stuffed it into the net before goaltender Pekke Rinne could recover. Rinne had been looking the other way.

"Whenever I'm going into the corner or along the boards going in for a puck and he's on me, you have to be pretty smart with that, because he's very dangerous at lifting your stick or tying your stick up and getting the puck," Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison said. "He doesn't stop. He's deadly with his stick."

Logan Couture is on it. Datsyuk once held the puck in the corner to the right of the San Jose Sharks net facing the opposing center. He put the puck between Couture's stick and his feet, then yanked it back and stepped into the circle. Couture was so discombobulated, he fell on his butt.

Video: FLA@DET: Datsyuk scores twice in the 3rd period

"By the time you figure out he did something, then there's, like, five stickhandles and you're not sure where the puck was," Garrison said.

The list of victims is long. The Lightning don't want it to grow any longer. Datsyuk does things no one else in the NHL does -- not even Chicago Blackhawks wing Patrick Kane, with his incredible hands -- so you have to defend him unlike anyone else.

Watch the body, not the puck? Yeah, easier said than done. Take away time and space? You actually might want to give Datsyuk more time and space.

Garrison is on guard for one of Datsyuk's signature moves: the backhand cut-in.

Video: PHI@DET: Datsyuk scores with backhand in shootout

"I think any time Datsyuk has the puck coming into your zone, it's one of those Datsyuk moments," Garrison said with a laugh. "Unless you're very comfortable at rushing at him, I think you maybe take a half a step back from it and kind of catch him maybe …"

Garrison paused. It's much easier to think about it in the locker room, not in real time on the ice.

"He wants you to come close," Garrison continued. "He wants to be able to put the puck in between your stick and your skates. So if you don't give him that space, you're able to play the puck a little bit better. … That's the way I try to do it. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. You kind of play your odds."

Datsyuk beat the odds. Thanks to European scout Hakan Andersson, the Red Wings selected Datsyuk in the sixth round (No. 171) of the 1998 NHL Draft. He was small, pigeon-toed and overlooked, but he became one of the best two-way players in the game: a two-time winner of the Stanley Cup, a three-time winner of the Selke Trophy, a four-time winner of the Lady Byng.

Video: BOS@DET: Datsyuk dekes on Krug to pick up 300th goal

And out of all the great players the Red Wings have had during their 25-season playoff streak -- Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, and on and on, a roster of Hockey Hall of Fame members -- Datsyuk has been the most entertaining for one simple reason: You never know what he's going to do.

Datsyuk still has tricks up his sleeve at age 37. If you're a fan, enjoy the show before the curtain comes down. If you're the Lightning, make sure you don't get caught watching the show -- or, worse, wind up as part of it.

"It's fun to watch," Boyle said. "It's difficult to defend."

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