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Wings' lesser-knowns doing serious damage in Cup final

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TSN.ca Staff
6/2/2009 9:54:39 AM
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If you were asked to name the face of the Detroit Red Wings, who would it be?

Chances are you would think of a player like Pavel Datsyuk, who led the team with 97 points this season.

Or Nicklas Lidstrom, the veteran defenceman and four-time Stanley Cup champion who has come to represent the unflappable consistency of the fabled organization.

Many hockey fans might name Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa or Johan "Mule" Franzen as the core member of a team that is the closest thing the NHL has to a dynasty.

And yet, with the exception of one goal from Franzen in Game 1, it has not been the Wings' biggest names who are putting pucks in the back of the net in this Stanley Cup final. Take a look at the scoresheets from a series that Detroit leads 2-0 and it may leave you scratching your head - Brad Stuart, Jonathan Ericsson, Valtteri Filppula, Justin Abdelkader (with two).

It's not as though only the big boys are allowed to score goals, but it's safe to say it's been all underdogs so far for Motown.

To put things in perspective, look at the regular season numbers from Detroit's Cup final goal scorers not named Franzen: Stuart, 15 points. Ericsson, four points in 19 games (oh, and by the way, he had his appendix removed a few days ago). Filppula, 40 points in 80 games (a very solid total but still not even enough to crack the list of the Wings' top ten scorers). And finally, Abdelkader? The 22-year-old played in two games for Detroit this season, recording exactly zero points, and was anything but a household name more than three days ago.

So why the sudden outburst from the Red Wings' lesser-knowns?

It's possible that the absence of Datsyuk, who has missed five straight playoff games with an injured foot, has opened the door for other players to step up and prove their worth on a team that has arguably the most depth in the National Hockey League. But it's interesting to see who has stepped into the spotlight with the team's top scorer sidelined; players who were not in the Wings' top ten scorers in the regular season have accounted for 83 percent of their goals in the two most important games of the year so far.

Now clearly goals alone aren't everything - assists have not been in short order for the Wings' top talent, and hockey is a fluid game full of subtle contributions that often go unnoticed. So it's not to say the Detroit's big names have been lacking in overall performance, but when it comes to finishing the play in this Stanley Cup final, there is no doubt it has been the grinders who have gotten the job done thus far.

It's been a theme for Detroit as of late, and not just in the Cup series. Forward Darren Helm has scored three goals in the postseason this year.  Doesn't sound impressive?  Keep in mind this is a player who has no goals in 23 career regular season games.

While Helm's playoff contributions have been important, the overall trend has now clearly come to the forefront on the league's biggest stage. The story of Game 1 was the many bounces that seemed to be going Detroit's way at almost every turn.  These weren't beautiful end-to-end goals scored after weaving through an entire team, these were routine jam-jobs that weren't all that nice to look at.

"I just tried to get it in," explained Stuart of his tally in Game 1. "Stuff happens, it's a game of bounces."

Indeed, these are grinder goals - pucks banged in after big rebounds off the boards, rubber that somehow finds its way into the net. They all count, including the ugly ones, and the Wings' lesser-knowns have been taking advantage of each and every opportunity.

"You know, I guess it's like anything," Wings' head coach Mike Babcock said. "Every building you go to there are little nuances, and you try to take advantage of them the best you possibly can. So (Saturday) we got some breaks, but I always believe when you're at the net you've got a chance to get some breaks."

At the other end of the ice so far, there have been no breaks for Pittsburgh. No one in the Penguins' lineup - neither the stars nor the grinders - has been able to break through the stifling, impenetrable lockdown that is the Red Wings. Chris Osgood and Co. have shut down the Pens' offence, holding them to just two goals in two games.

If anything, Pittsburgh's best players have become visibly frustrated with their lack of production, as evidenced by a boiling Evgeni Malkin's aggressive late-game tussle with a hesitant Henrik Zetterberg.

It's not as though the Penguins aren't in the game.  In fact, Pittsburgh outshot the Wings 32-30 in Game 1 and 32-26 in Game 2.

"They've had one break in the first couple of games in the series," said NHL on TSN analyst Ray Ferraro, referring to Stuart's own-goal against the Wings on Sunday night, but "Games 1 and 2 have been pretty much a mish-mash of bad luck for the Penguins."

After near-miss chances by Bill Guerin and Sidney Crosby in Game 2, the Pens are hoping that, as the series shifts to Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, they can take advantage of a few "nuances" of their own that they know about in familiar territory.

"It's frustrating but that's playoff hockey," said Penguins captain Crosby of the odd bounces that all seemed to go in Detroit's favour. "They were strong, now we have to do our job back at our rink."

Breaks aside, Chris Osgood has been solid in the the Detroit net, stopping 62 of 64 shots through the first two games, and there isn't much room for error against the solid Wings team.

"You do have to make your own breaks," said TSN Insider Bob McKenzie. "Against the Detroit Red Wings, you need to play virtually perfect hockey."

With Crosby held pointless through two games, he'll certainly be looking to step it up in front of the home crowd. Or alternatively, maybe the Pens need to take a page from Detroit's playbook and rely on a sloppy rebound from some underappreciated grinders. Are you listening, Rob Scuderi and Craig Adams?

Abdelkader Scores (Photo: Harry How/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Harry How/Getty Images)
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