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Hart candidate Datsyuk may play in Game 4

Wednesday, 06.03.2009 / 4:19 PM / News
By Christy Hammond  - Community Relations Manager
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Hart candidate Datsyuk may play in Game 4
PITTSBURGH -- Hart finalist Pavel Datsyuk practiced with the team Wednesday for the first time since he suffered an injury in Game 2 during the Western Conference Finals. The Russian forward had previously skated and really noticed an improvement by Tuesday morning, but still wasn’t ready to play in Game 3.

Datsyuk’s participation in practice does not guarantee that he will play Thursday night, but it’s certainly an encouraging sign for his team.

“What we'll do is we'll go for the optional skate in the morning and see how he responded today and see how he felt,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said.

Datsyuk was all smiles at Wednesday’s afternoon practice, centering a line with Valtteri Filppula and Marian Hossa during drills.

“He looked good out there today,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “Today was the best so far he looked out there and like I said he had a big smile on his face all practice so that was good to see.”

His return would not only boost the team offensively, but would be a welcome relief for Zetterberg on the defensive end. Hank logged a whopping 24:19 minutes of ice time in Tuesday’s loss as Babcock tried to get Zetterberg out against Sidney Crosby as much as possible, resulting in some double shifts for the forward. Datsyuk’s presence in the lineup would allow Babcock to pair up Datsyuk’s line against Evgeni Malkin’s line.

“He’s going to be a big boost for us if he comes back,” Zetterberg said. “Pav is really good on both ends of the ice and he plays a lot of minutes so he’ll help us all including me.”

When asked if he would play as a winger rather than a center due to his injury, Datsyuk replied by saying, “I think at any center, defenseman, I want to play so bad. I don't want to watch this game again.”

His teammates are just relieved to know that their star is close to returning to the lineup.

“To me we've played long enough without them,” netminder Chris Osgood said. “We've played five games in eight days without Pav, and to me, that's long enough. We've made it this far, but we don't want to take any more chances.”

OTHER ROSTER UPDATES: Center Kris Draper will return to the lineup in Game 4, but Babcock has yet to decide which player Draper will replace. At practice Draper centered a line with Ville Leino and Kirk Maltby, indicating that Justin Abdelkader would be pulled from the lineup.

The veteran forward led Detroit during the regular season with a 60.3 face-off win percentage so his poise in the face-off circle will certainly help the Wings.

 “He wins a lot of face-offs for us, is out there killing penalties,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “He would help us if he’s able to go.”

Tomas Holmstrom and Brian Rafalski missed practice on Wednesday, but they are both available for tomorrow’s game. Babcock told reporters that at this point in the playoffs, every practice is optional.

THIRD PERIOD SURPRISE: While the Wings have scored more goals in the second period than any other frame this postseason, the third period has been Detroit’s most dominant as the team has outscored its opponents 17-6 in the final stanza during the first three rounds.

The Stanley Cup finals has been a different story for the Red Wings as Pittsburgh outshot the Wings a combined 33-14 in the first three games. Osgood weathered the storm in Games 1 and 2, but was unable to hold the Penguins off in the third period of Game 3 when Pittsburgh scored twice including an empty-netter. Detroit looks to return to its usual dominant postseason form in the third period on Thursday.

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