May 22, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Wings' top guns still holstered

Tomas Holmstrom scored twice in the Wings' first four playoff games, but he has been scoreless the last eight. (David Guralnick/The Detroit News)

Detroit -- It's about to get tighter, and louder, and rowdier. And at some point, as early as tonight, the Red Wings will face a question they're probably sick of hearing.

Can they keep rolling if their leading scorers don't score?

Easy answer: Of course they can, idiot. They lead the Blackhawks 2-0 in the Western Conference finals, they're 10-3 in the playoffs and they're getting clutch goals from others.

Fair enough. But let's not be silly here, either. The odds strongly suggest the Wings will need Pavel Datsyuk and Marian Hossa to do more offensively. That's not piling on undue pressure; it's being realistic.

Game 3 against the Blackhawks in the raucous United Center tonight will be the most dangerous of the series, because the Wings essentially will end it or give life to a feisty young team. And if the Wings truly are so good they can keep winning without goals from Datsyuk, they might find out now. He has a sore foot and didn't practice Thursday, and could be sidelined.

Mike Babcock didn't sound overly concerned and said he'd know more today about Datysuk's availability. Players didn't sound concerned either about the injury, but everyone knows the numbers.

Net difficulties

Datsyuk has one goal the entire postseason, none in the past 11 games. He's still playing excellent defense, and while he's living up to his status as a finalist for the Selke Trophy (best defensive forward), he's not playing up to his status as a finalist for the Hart Trophy (league MVP).

He's somewhat snake-bit and is starting to press, for sure. It's not a huge issue yet because the Wings have won with goals from Johan Franzen, Dan Cleary, Mikael Samuelsson and others. But it's a puzzle because Datysuk proved last postseason, with 10 goals and 13 assists, he can be terrific in the tightest games. So did Hossa, who had 26 points with Pittsburgh last spring and now has two goals in the past nine games.

"They compete hard and they're good defensively," Babcock said. "I'm saying the same thing you are, that over time, you don't score like they do all year long, every single year, every playoff, and then suddenly lose their hands or their skill or anything. So keep on keeping on."

And that's the attitude the Wings have adopted. Datysuk didn't talk Thursday because of his injury, but Hossa answered every probing query about his slump.

"It's human nature, if you don't put the puck in, then you try harder and harder," Hossa said. "And then you start squeezing the stick. Lots of players go through this, but you only start worrying when you stop having chances. Sometimes it's better to not think about it and just play."

Well, that makes sense. Except for this: It's hard not to think about it when constantly asked about it. They know what's expected, and also know they have the luxury of playing with the deepest trove of talent in the NHL.

No pressure

If Datsyuk can't go, Hossa probably will play on a line with Valtteri Filppula and Tomas Holmstrom. The top-producing line of Henrik Zetterberg, Cleary and Franzen has been scorching, which is buying time.

The Blackhawks will stir it up because they're fast and deep and actually try to score. They take chances, which can lead to mistakes, which the Wings have gobbled up. If shootouts are ahead, the Wings will need all guns firing, although they certainly won't fret until there's reason to fret.

"I think when any scorer struggles, it's over-exaggerated," Chris Osgood said. "They just gotta relax. They're working hard and they're gonna score big goals before it's all said and done, you can guarantee that."

Babcock and the coaches have tried to help, showing individual clips and talking about it. At times, Datsyuk has been spectacular with the puck, forcing opponents to scramble to contain him. But nobody's kidding anybody -- Datsyuk (team-high 97 points in the regular season) and Hossa (team-high 40 goals) primarily get paid to produce offense.

"It can't be easy when you're a top one or two player in the world and the offense just isn't coming," Cleary said. "But Pav has so much pride in his ability and he's so competitive, that's what I love. He's a breakaway away from really being dominant. He's got all the support in here. It's just a matter of time."

A matter of time and space and maybe a fortunate bounce. I know it seems like the Wings are in complete control, heavy favorites to stomp the Blackhawks, solid favorites to win it all.

If they've gotten this far without many goals from their best, you figure they're in great shape. But there's still a distance to go to defend their championship, including a rollicking weekend in Chicago, and there's no sense tempting fate and wasting chances. When Datsyuk or Hossa starts scoring, you'll know for sure the Wings are rolling.">

The Red Wings expect more scoring from Pavel Datsyuk but he might not play ... (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)
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