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Red Wings' complete lineup is overwhelming

by Larry Wigge
DETROIT -- The first question for Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock Saturday morning was curiously different, when someone asked him if he was going to wear his lucky McGill University tie for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.

"Well, I'm getting a lot of pressure to do that, I can tell you," he said. "I got so many e-mails, there's like 34 of them. I haven't decided on the McGill tie. I actually bought a tie to wear today -- and it wasn't the McGill tie. We'll decide, I've got a little bit of time."

So, Mike, someone asked: Will it be a game-time decision?

"There seems to a lot of that going on," Babcock replied with a hearty laugh.

It might not have seemed a time for hilarity, with the Red Wings trying to recover after losing the last two games of the Stanley Cup Final and the series tied at two games apiece. But that depth of jocularity was just a confident air about the depth the Wings had in their lineup.

One day earlier, Pavel Datsyuk, who led the Red Wings in scoring in the regular season with 32 goals and 97 points, was declared fit to play in Game 5, after missing seven games since he injured his foot in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final against Chicago. That created an interesting phenomenon: All of the regulars in Detroit were ready to play. Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Kris Draper, all back in the lineup.

No game-time decisions, except for Babcock's tie (he was wearing the lucky McGill tie when the first puck dropped Saturday).

On the ice, the Red Wings quickly tied a thick Windsor knot on the Penguins' hopes of going home for Game 6 Tuesday night with a lead in the series. Back to full strength, they carved up the Pens, 5-0.

Suddenly, the fatigue that seemed evident in the Red Wings' game and the unusual number of giveaways they had in Games 3 and 4 in Pittsburgh were afterthoughts. And the power play that Babcock said "sucked the life out of the team" in Game 4 was downright dominating, scoring three times.

Back to that normally proficient Red Wings' style of play. Resuscitation complete.

"We're very fortunate to have that depth," said winger Dan Cleary, who scored the game's first goal 13:22 into the first period. "Drapes goes down, and all of a sudden we have Darren Helm, who's a virtual carbon-copy. Nick goes down, young Jonathan Ericsson goes in there and he's a stud. We don't have Datsyuk, but Valtteri Filppula can step right in."

It was Datsyuk who helped start the onslaught Saturday night, when he deftly used a shake-and-bake move to work his way into the Pittsburgh zone. Datsyuk sent a pass over to Cleary, who fired a 35-foot wrister over the glove of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Then, Filppula scored just 1:44 into the second period, after a couple of long passes by Chris Osgood and Marian Hossa.

Detroit made it 3-0 less than five minutes later when defenseman Niklas Kronwall confidently went deep into the Pittsburgh corner and came out in front with the move of a power forward. Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen drew assists on the power-play goal. Brian Rafalski also struck on the man advantage, off assists by Datsyuk and Lidstrom, to give the Red Wings three goals in a span of six minutes, 42 seconds. And Zetterberg made it 5-0 with 4:20 left in the second period on the third power-play goal of the night.

"Our depth has won games for us, no question about it," Zetterberg said. His workload in pressure situations was cut down to a more manageable night -- down to 20 minutes with the presence of Datsyuk in the lineup, an obvious trickle-down effect in depth that Babcock was able to put on the ice.

Said Lidstrom, "We normally don't have to rely on one or two lines to create offense or be strong defensively. It's having confidence in our system and playing with skill and discipline."

But depth is no accident in Detroit, where earning your way up to the big club is like going through Red Wings University. That is, finish off your junior or college or European training and then, after a couple of years at Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League, you just might be ready for a chance to lace up your skates at Joe Louis Arena.


"If you look at the blueprint of Detroit, they don't rush players, they don't force them into the NHL," Cleary said. "They let them season in the minors, one, two, even three years.

Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup Final Gear"By the time they get here, they're ready to contribute."

And contribute they do … in a big way.

Helm, who spent most of the season at Grand Rapids like Ericsson, Justin Abdelkader and Ville Leino, leads the League in these playoffs with 110 hits while contributing four goals, including the series-clincher against Chicago in the Western Conference Finals. He echoed the thoughts of everyone on the Detroit roster when he said, "It's not about the number of minutes anyone plays. It's not about who gets the goals or assists. It's all about winning.

"All of the guys who have come up from Grand Rapids have enjoyed every minute of their opportunities. You talk about depth, but the truth is, Pavel Datsyuk is one of THE guys we all count on. We'll all gladly play a few minutes less to have him back in the lineup."

Depth, it seems, is more than perception when you see how confidently the Red Wings played in Game 5.

Now, the series is no longer tied up. And the depth of Detroit's dominance gives the Red Wings a chance to win their fifth Stanley Cup in 12 seasons on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh in Game 6.

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