Commentary

Part of Pens' plan out of Ducks' book

Updated: June 6, 2009, 2:26 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- As the Pittsburgh Penguins crash the boards and lay the body on the Detroit Red Wings in these Stanley Cup finals, you can't help but think they've watched a little video from the second round of the NHL playoffs.

The Anaheim Ducks pushed the Wings to seven games in Round 2 and did it in part by trying to hit every Red and White body they could lay their hands on.

"I think that's what the Penguins are trying to do, they're trying to be as physical as they possibly can," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle told ESPN.com via phone Friday. "This is the Stanley Cup finals. You have to earn every inch of the ice and they've been as physical as anybody on Detroit."

The Wings, when they're rolling, have the puck most of the game. No one has played that puck possession game better since Mike Babcock took over behind the Red Wings' bench. So, when you're the other team, the plan is to pound Detroit's defense corps on the forecheck and hope it leads to turnovers, something Anaheim has done so well under Carlyle.

The Penguins played it to a tee Thursday night.

"Especially in their building, I think they were coming after us a bit more," Wings defenseman and six-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom said Friday. "They're trying to put pressure on us when they can, and when they're not, they're backing off and playing the trap real well. But when they have a chance, they're going to get in there and forecheck hard on us."

Lidstrom, in particular, took some heavy hits in Game 4, especially one from Matt Cooke in the first period. He got up slowly from that one. Chris Kunitz also had some big hits again in the game. Just so happens he's a former Duck.

"Kunitz has played really well with [Bill] Guerin and [Sidney] Crosby," Carlyle said of his former player. "He's a banger out there, punishing people."

We threw the Anaheim comparison Babcock's way and he didn't disagree.

"Yeah, I think so," Babcock said. "And I think when you don't manage the puck well, at times, it's very effective. I think when you manage the puck well, it's not very effective."

For Babcock, it's the chicken and the egg theory. If his players can make smarter decisions with the puck, that helps nullify the forecheck.

"I think they've had some guys do a good job on their forecheck," he said. "But we went through it [Friday] morning and showed our guys some clips that, if we executed it all in these situations here, and I'm not trying to take away anything they're doing on the forecheck, but if you make some good plays, there's no forecheck."

"You have to continue to play with patience," Lidstrom said. "You can't get impatient and pinch at the wrong time or step up at the wrong time. You have to play with that patience. ... When you have the puck, you can't throw it away or give it away. You have to make smart plays with it."

The goal, of course, if you're Pittsburgh, is to wear the Wings down. That's what the Ducks did so well in beating Detroit in the 2007 playoffs and nearly pulling it off again this spring.

"[Henrik] Zetterberg, to me, in [Thursday] night's game specifically, he looked tired," Carlyle said. "He's played a lot of hockey and played against the other team's top line."

For the record, Zetterberg said Friday that he felt fine. (OK, but what's he supposed to say? That he's tired and wants to go home?)

Not having Pavel Datsyuk around to share in the responsibility at both ends of the ice must also be taxing on Zetterberg, Carlyle said.

"The loss of Datsyuk is starting to show from the standpoint of providing more offense for them," Carlyle said. "He didn't score a tremendous amount [versus Anaheim], but he's a very dangerous player and he makes everyone around him better. He played very well against us."

Babcock said Datsyuk would be able to rejoin the lineup for Saturday's pivotal fifth game. "He'll play," the coach said near the beginning of his news conference. Later on, he seemed less definitive.

"We're hoping Pav's going to be in and we're planning that he's going to be in," Babcock said. "But he's still got to be in. Then the second thing is, how does he do when he gets out there? He missed a chunk of time [seven games]. Is he capable of those situations? Is he playing on the wing or is he playing in the middle? You know, all those things, we'll see.

"I don't know the answer, and I'm being honest with you, just because until I see them play, I won't know."

Suddenly, the absence of Datsyuk has garnered more attention. That's what happens when you lose two straight. Babcock said you can't use that as a crutch.

"The greatest thing about this trophy is how hard it is [to win it]," Babcock said. "And when you have injuries, it's harder. Suck it up and find a way to win. Who cares. No one cares except about the team who wins in the end. You get your name on that thing, it's the greatest summer of your life. That's still our plan."

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.