Darren Eliot
Saturday June 6th, 2009

Pavel Datsyuk will rejoin the Red Wings lineup for tonight's pivotal Game 5 in Detroit. This was the thought heading into Game 4 as well. The difference? As Coach Mike Babcock put it, "Last game we thought Pav would play, but we didn't plan on it. This time, we're planning on it." Aside from a masterful job of semantics, Babcock's task becomes judging Datsyuk's readiness to perform in his customary roles after missing the last seven games. Typically, when a star player suits up, even when coaches mention managing said player's minutes, once they drop the puck, the player plays fully and completely.

Look for Datsyuk to play over 20 minutes and for the Wings to get a lift from his presence. I'm not saying it will be enough, but the Red Wings need a boost. They looked tired and a tad tense in Game 4 and that might be the surprise of the series thus far.

• Which brings me back to a point of view that Chris Osgood shared with me before Game 5 of the conference semifinal against the Ducks. He was talking about external expectations and how they seldom match the mood of the room. "People talk about pressure as if it changes by the situation. We're a good team, but there are lots of good teams at this time of year. Sometimes it goes your way, but not always. It hasn't always gone our way over the years. We don't always win. But pressure? No one is sitting here thinking of the outcome. As players, this is what you want to be part of. The highest level of competition. That's what drives us."

That sage insight will be tested Saturday. Game 5 comes down to the Red Wings' reserve of recollections -- the experience of getting it done -- versus the Penguins' pent-up motivation of coming close last year and their extra energy stores that come with being younger in a series in which the teams face-off for the fifth time in eight days.

• Having said all that, typically these games are a little tighter -- as in tight checking -- than the lead-up games. Not because of nerves, rather due to common sense. Neither team wants to be the first to blink -- to make a mistake and give the other an advantage -- as in yielding the first goal of the game. Once there is a goal on the board, though, that's when these games can take on a life of their own. That's what happened last year when the Penguins forced a Game 6 with a triple-overtime triumph.

This time, neither team is facing elimination. The Penguins have tied the series, with an opportunity to bring it all back home with a chance to win the Stanley Cup on home ice. The Red Wings can put themselves in exactly the same situation as they were after five games a year ago. But, we're getting ahead of ourselves. As fans, as media, it's allowable.

The players, however, can't afford to. Their focus is the Game 5 competition only. Should be epic.

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