There was some question before last night’s game 5 about Pavel Datsyuk’s availability. Something about a hurt wrist? Three assists later—including a sick steal and feed on the game winner—and the Red Wings are headed back to Detroit after a monstrous 3rd period come back against the Sharks.
This is now what Red Wing’s fans know Pav for. Spectacular play, regular season in, post season out. But those who have followed this team for several years may remember a time when No. 13 playing at this level in the playoffs wasn’t a given, but a question mark. Go back far enough and you’ll see his name pop up in more than one “points to the series” not as a definite, but as an uncertainty.
That’s right. People used to be unsure which Pavel Datsyuk would show up come playoff time.
In his rookie campaign Pavel put up 35 points in 70 games played. Not too shabby, and he had made a good enough impression to play for the Wings during the playoffs—no small feat considering this may arguably have been one of the best hockey teams ever assembled. He sputtered a bit, putting up only six points in 21 playoff games en route to a Stanley Cup.
The 2002-2003 regular season saw an increase in Pavel’s workload as the team relied on him and Henrik Zetterberg for more scoring output. He bumped his points total to 51 in 64 games, but then unmitigated disaster struck. The first seeded Red Wings were ousted in the first round by the eight seed (then) Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in one of the biggest upsets in the history of the game. I’ve stated it before, and I’ll state it again: I still have nightmares about Giguere.
By 2005 Datsyuk had established himself as a star in the League, and part of the foundation for Detroit. He scored 87 points in what would be the second best Red Wings season ever. The team racked up 124 points and only lost 16 games(!) in regulation. Playoff expectations were high. Then Detroit ran into the Chris Pronger-led Edmonton Oilers, losing in 6 games. Fans and pundits alike were shocked. This team had now been victims in two of the biggest upsets in recent memory, and Pav had only put up three assists in this first round loss.
This was really when questions began to swirl for Pavel. Here was a talented player that seemed to fade during the post season. Those types of players don’t tend to last long in Detroit.
He played through another outstanding regular season in 2006-2007, posting an identical 87 points throughout. This is where I distinctly remember the guys on Versus talking about Datsyuk, and how he needed to not be such a spectator if the Wings to do any damage. Pavel finally made his playoff break through, posting 16 points in 18 contests before losing to the (now) Anaheim Ducks in the Conference Finals.
Not coincidentally the Red Wings would go on to win the Stanley Cup the year after Datsyuk finally grew into his playoff beard. He racked up 23 points in 22 games and was instrumental in bringing the Cup back to Hockeytown.
Nowadays, it almost seems too easy to take performances like Pav had last night for granted. I’ve said since the beginning of round one that I don’t think I have ever seen him this consistently dominant. So I force myself sometimes to remember the stretch where Detroit’s best regular season player wasn’t come playoff time. I’ll go back and watch the videos on Youtube. The sweep at the hands of the Ducks. The collapse against the Oilers. Just to put greatness into perspective.
Right now Detroit is down 3-2 against the San José Sharks, and odds are still strong that the Wings will lose this series eventually. But it certainly won’t be because Pavel Datsyuk didn’t show up to play. Those days are long gone.