- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

DETROIT | The wait for Pavel Datsyuk is finally over.

Datsyuk, who missed the previous seven games with a foot injury, made his Stanley Cup Finals debut Saturday night for the Detroit Red Wings. The will-he-or-won’t-he drama surrounding the center has been the biggest off-ice story line of this series.

“We wouldn’t go with him at 50 percent,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “You never know what adrenaline’s going to do. He seems to be that he’s tolerating it now. I watched him in the skate - he doesn’t look like Pavel, and yet in saying that, when the puck’s dropped tonight I’ve seen a lot of that over the years.”

Along with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, Datsyuk is a finalist for the Hart Trophy, given to the league MVP, after racking up 32 goals and 97 points in the regular season. Even on the Red Wings’ star-studded roster, Datsyuk had 24 more points than his next-closest teammate, Henrik Zetterberg.

Considered maybe the top two-way player in the league, Datsyuk is also a finalist for the Selke Trophy - an award he captured last season as the top defensive forward in the league.

“You’re talking about inserting a pretty good hockey player at both ends of the rink,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “It’s going to add a lot to their team if he can get in there and be effective the way we’ve seen him be effective in the past.”

How effective Datsyuk could be was the biggest question leading up to Game 5. Datsyuk said he thought he was ready to play for Game 3, and Babcock originally said he would be in the lineup for Game 4, but both times he couldn’t go.

Despite the fantastic regular season, Datsyuk wasn’t having a great postseason, having just one goal and seven points before Saturday night.

“What I do - I try to play as hard as possible. I try to help the team - this is what I have to do,” Datsyuk said. “It is easy to say now, but I will try to show on the ice. … Not everybody is healthy in playoff time. It is an opportunity to play, doesn’t matter if you are healthy or not. I think it is everybody who is like that.”

While others on Detroit’s deep roster have picked up the scoring in Datsyuk’s absence, he might be needed more for the finish of this series at the defensive end. Zetterberg has spent much of his time matched up against Sidney Crosby, and he had only three points in the first four games.

The Red Wings have not had an answer for Malkin. He typically has been matched up against smaller, younger centers such as Valtteri Filppula or Darren Helm and scored or assisted on seven of Pittsburgh’s 10 goals with Datsyuk missing.

“Well, we’d like Pav to have the puck for 18 or 20 minutes like he normally does,” Babcock said. “That’s a great concept. When he has the puck, they don’t have it. It’s not even playing defense, you just have the puck. You don’t have to worry about it. Plus you’re faster coming out of your zone. You’re faster in the neutral zone.”

Added Datsyuk: “Everybody knows it is not easy game, not the easy series. Pittsburgh is a very good team, and the series is 0-0 and whoever wins this game [has the advantage]. I am looking forward to it.”

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