Abdelkader the latest unknown Red Wing to shine in NHL playoffs

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PITTSBURGH - So who is Justin Abdelkader anyway?

The 22-year-old has been the surprise of the Stanley Cup final, scoring in the third period of each of the Detroit Red Wings home victories to start the best-of-seven series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Abdelkader is from Muskegon, Mich., and was chosen in the second round, 42nd overall, by Detroit in the 2005 draft.

The six-foot-one 215-pound centre helped Michigan State University win an NCAA championship in 2007, when he was named MVP of the Frozen Four tournament after scoring the game-winning goal against Boston College with 19 seconds left in the final.

He spent nearly all of this season with Grand Rapids of the AHL, but was called up for two NHL regular season games. His goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final was his first in the NHL.

"It's pretty special," he said Monday. "Hopefully I can be someone young kids in Michigan can look up to.

"It's been such a tough economy, hopefully not only me but our team can be an inspiration."

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock says that while Abdelkader now plays on the fourth line, he may soon be a key player.

"This guy is a player you're going to talk about for a long time," said Babcock. "He's going to be a physical force in the league, forechecking, and he's going to have good enough hands to be around the net and play with the good players.

"And he's going to be a net presence. So he's going to be an important part of the future. In the meantime, he's providing energy."

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NO SID, NO GINO: The Penguins gave star centres Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin a day off from media interviews on Monday, even though they were the players reporters most wanted to talk to.

Crosby because he was shut out of the points in the first two games in Detroit, and Malkin because he narrowly escaped a suspension for instigating a fight with 19 seconds left in a 3-1 loss in Detroit on Sunday.

"We had a game plan for the playoffs," said Bylsma. "I made a point of saying every day doesn't need to be Sidney Crosby Day, so there have been days when he hasn't been out here.

"We made a choice to give other people a chance to be up here for you to talk to them. We feel it's important for it to be a team thing and not just Dan Bylsma and Sidney Crosby taking the podium every day."

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DRAPER SCRATCHED: Babcock acknowledged that veteran centre Kris Draper was a healthy scratch for Game 2 on Sunday and did not sit out because of the suspected groin injury that has hampered the checking ace recently.

When asked about him, Babcock said only that "Drapes was ready to go (Sunday)."

The 37-year-old, who won the Selke Trophy as the league's top defensive forward in 2004, has played only four games in the post-season. He is seeking his fifth Stanley Cup with the Red Wings.

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