DETROIT – Throughout his NHL career, there’s been a higher likelihood of spotting a unicorn than seeing Pavel Datsyuk knocked on his can in a hockey game.
But Sunday, the Red Wings’ star center was treated rudely by Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty with a bone crushing, blind side hit (see photo above) that ended with Datsyuk helmetless and in a heap along the ice behind the Kings’ net.
“He’s obviously always vulnerable, but when you’re short handed and Doughty’s flying, trying to come back … ,” Wings forward Daniel Cleary said. “But he scored right away. He’s a competitive guy.”
Datsyuk did get the last laugh, when on his next shift, he scored the game’s first goal in the Wings’ 3-2 win over the defending Stanley Cup champions at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday afternoon. And as the case has been for the majority of two-plus seasons, when Datsyuk scores, the final verdict is usually a favorable one for Detroit.
Since the 2010-11 season, the Wings are 38-1-5 – that’s a magnificent .920 winning percentage – when Datsyuk scores.
It’s so unusual for an opposing player to get a clean shot on Datsyuk, but even when it does happen he somehow bounces back with an even greater determination, coach Mike Babcock said.
“When I watch Pavel Datsyuk play all I think about is how much will he has and how determined he is,” Babcock said. “He just keeps coming. He doesn’t care who it is or who he’s playing. The best of the best are ultra competitive and they bring it every single day. They don’t have it every day, but they bring it. Those guys are our best players and they drive our bus.”
The Doughty hit came early in the game. While killing a Niklas Kronwall penalty, Datsyuk worked off the left wing, cut to the middle of the ice where he cruised by Kings defenseman Alex Martinez. Unfortunately, the Wings’ magician didn’t see Doughty, who entered the picture from the right side before he lowered the boom.
Datsyuk got his revenge when on the power play, he skated into the zone at top speed, took a cross-ice pass from Henrik Zetterberg, cut to the middle, splitting the defense of Slava Voynov and Rob Scuderi, and fired a shot top shelf over Jonathan Quick’s glove hand.
“You know, Pav has been doing it all year for us, as he has year after year,” Kronwall said. “It doesn’t matter if he gets hit, though it rarely happens because he’s so smart. Tonight, Doughty was able to find him, but Pavel just got up and kept playing his game.”
The win is the Red Wings three consecutive victory in regulation, the first time that they’ve strung together as many since they won four straight last February. Sunday’s game was the third in four days for the Wings, who looked absolutely exhausted from the second period on.
“I knew it was going to be ugly today, but I just wanted it to be an ugly win not an ugly loss,” Babcock said. “When you wake up in the morning and look in the paper this isn’t a thing of beauty. That’s the way the league is. You have to find a way to win.
“We were awful. … We sagged there a bit in the second period, but we responded.”
Datsyuk, who had a team-high six shots, also played a significant role in Jonathan Ericsson’s game-winning goal with 4.5-seconds remaining in regulation. Though Datsyuk wasn’t credited with the face-off win to the right of Quick, the puck was send behind the Kings’ net where Cleary retrieved it.
“With 14 seconds left I got a good jump on (Alec) Martinez and I don’t know what happened after that,” Cleary said. “I think Pavel got it from me and fed it to Big E. I know Big E scored, I saw it trickle in.”
Ericsson didn’t see the puck cross the goal line, either. Though he was immediately thanked by an appreciative game official, who wasn’t a proponent of overtime on Sunday.
“One of the linesmen was thanking me after I scored,” Ericsson said. “He said, ‘Thank you so much. I really had to go pee. I wouldn’t last overtime.’ That was kind of funny.”
But not for the Kings, who despite out-shooting Detroit, 47-31, dropped their season record to 3-5-2 on the young season.
THREE STARS: 3, Alec Martinez, LAK (1 goal); 2, Henrik Zetterberg, DET (2 assists); 1, Jimmy Howard, DET (46 saves).
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose