SAN JOSE, Calif. – With three weeks left in the regular-season, Pavel Datsyuk hoped to use the remaining games as a tune-up for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Datsyuk made his return to the Wings’ lineup Saturday after a 26-day absence following arthroscopic surgery to clean out damaged cartilage in his right knee. Originally expected to miss 2-3 weeks, it’s safe to say that it didn’t take too long before Datsyuk rekindled some of his sorcery Saturday night at HP Pavilion.
“Now, he looked like a player that's been out for a long time,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He's going to get better and yet he can still do things that the goalie – they make it two, he makes it one right away – and that was a big deal for us, just having him in the lineup.”
Datsyuk scored his first goal in a month when he cut the Wings’ first-period deficit in half on an incredible play that he and a few others in the league are capable of making. His last goal happened to be a game-winner against Nashville on Feb. 17.
Despite Datsyuk’s magic, the Wings lost a 3-2 overtime decision to the San Jose Sharks.
“Usually first game back it feels like everybody flying and they are tougher than me, but this plan, every game is better,” said Datsyuk who logged is usual 19-minutes of ice-time in his return.
Twenty-three seconds after San Jose grabbed a two-goal cushion and seemingly had a stranglehold on the game, Datsyuk went to work, making a dazzling play in the corner to the left of Sharks goalie Antti Niemi. After making the Sharks’ All-Star center Joe Thornton look like a pylon in the corner, Datsyuk zipped a 27-foot snap shot from an unimaginable along the goal line that somehow beat Niemi over the shoulder.
“Really hard to make it good decision in corner,” Datsyuk said. “At least I have one shot when I come back and just shoot it in net.”
Datsyuk finished with one shot, three hits, a takeaway, a blocked shot and he won 12-of-19 face-offs.
“Just his presence out there, you know, that shot on the goal is amazing and just having him back out there just gives that whole line a boost,” goalie Jimmy Howard said.
The Wings picked up the pace in the second period and finally tied the game courtesy of a Sharks’ mistake in their own zone.
Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic attempted to clear the zone by sending the puck off the glass. However, Doug Janik was there to pick-off the pass with his hand and shoveled the puck to Valtteri Filppula, who regained entry into the zone, made a move to create separation from a Sharks’ defenseman and fired a rising shot which beat Niemi on the blocker side.
The assist was Janik’s first as a Wing this season, and his first NHL point in 26 months, which, ironically, also came in a 4-1 win over Sharks at HP Pavilion.
“I just tried to stay up there and keep it in and just chipped it to Fil and he did all of the work, he made a nice play,” Janik said. “It was rather an easy assist for me. It was just a play where I was trying to get the puck to the forward as quick as you can.”
The game began in a tough and unpropitious way for the Wings, as the Sharks maintained much of the pressure and limited Detroit’s chances by steadily possessing the puck for long stretches throughout the first 20-minutes.
It certainly didn’t hurt San Jose’s efforts that its top forward line of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture began the game as if fired from a cannon, buzzing the Wings’ zone and drawing blood in the first minute when Pavelski found the back of the net through a host of bodies in front of Howard.
After Babcock burned the team’s lone 30-second timeout in an effort to calm his troops, the Sharks continued to send wave after wave of forwards into the offensive zone. However, seven minutes later, Martin Havlat blasted a slap shot from 37-feet that beat Howard over the shoulder for a 2-0 San Jose lead. Havlat also had the game-winner in OT.
The Wings received yet another dose of bad news when Darren Helm left the game with a lower-body injury midway through the third period. Helm was hurt after delivering a body check on Sharks center Dominic Moore in the neutral zone with 8:37 left in the period. The collision was so loud that it was heard up in the press box.
Both players fell to the ice, but Helm got up very slowly before making his way to the Wings’ bench. A few minutes later, he left the ice under his own strength and he did not return to the game.
Helm will have an MRI on Monday.
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