June 1, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Unusual suspects are bailing out Wings

Red Wings forward Darren Helm tries to force the puck past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the first period. Helm played 16:25 in the 3-1 victory in Game 2, won 11 out of 17 faceoffs and also contributed an assist. (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)


Everyone's pitching in now, in every way, in odd ways and gutsy ways. The Red Wings are digging deeper and getting closer, and oh, my, strange and special things are happening.

Who can explain it now? Once again, stuck in a tight game, the Wings turned to the Michigan State rookie with the magic stick, Justin Abdelkader, who fired a fluttering puck past startled Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to clinch it.

Once again, the Wings turned to their young dynamo, Darren Helm, to spark a rush. Once again, they found a way against the Penguins, stunning them 3-1 Sunday night and grabbing a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Who can explain it now? The Penguins keep pressing, with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby constantly dangerous, and the Wings keep answering, from unshakeable goaltender Chris Osgood to the last line to the inspired Henrik Zetterberg.

That was Zetterberg in the closing seconds, protecting his goaltender by shoving aside Penguins. Then Malkin came flying in, throwing punches, and there it was, Zetterberg and Malkin flailing away. It was the perfect picture that Zetterberg is willing to do whatever it takes, and the perfect picture that the Penguins are flustered by what the Wings are tossing at them.

You can only imagine how annoyed Malkin and Crosby must be, because they sure are getting their chances. Malkin was slapped with an instigator penalty, but the NHL announced there'd be no further punishment.

Giving his all

It didn't matter to the Wings. Without injured star Pavel Datsyuk, they've just done more. Naturally, Zetterberg is doing everything. And by everything, I mean he even served as a de-facto goaltender, diving into the crease to smother a Crosby shot that could have tied the game in the third period.

"I didn't really see what happened, but Z always does everything," Osgood said. "He's our leader. At the end, that was nothing, just two good teams that are battling each other and will do anything to win."

Anything and anybody. Hey, we knew the Wings were deep, but this is beyond inexplicable. Young defenseman Jonathan Ericsson is skating with one less organ than when he started the playoffs (his lowly appendix is gone), and less than five days after surgery, he scored the Wings' first goal.

For the Penguins, it's more flash and dazzle. For the Wings, it's more bump and grind. Both games have been tight, so there's no reason to count out Pittsburgh, that's for certain. But as long as the Wings keep counting everybody in, they'll be hard to beat.

Abdelkader, who was in the minors all season except for two games, scored his first playoff goal in Game 1, grabbing a bouncing puck and ripping it in. In Game 2, he scored his second playoff goal, corralling a bouncing puck and firing it in.

This game had the same feel as the opener, right down to the contributions by the Wings' new Bang Gang, the heavy-hitting Abdelkader and Helm.

"It's happening so fast now, two games in two nights, I haven't even had a chance to think about it," Abdelkader said. "Maybe that's a good thing."

Datsyuk is missed

It's a necessary thing because the Penguins, especially Malkin, know their away around much better this year, fully capable of making something out of nothing. Something out of nothing -- that's where the Wings miss Datsyuk, out for a fifth straight game with a foot injury. You don't take a Hart Trophy finalist out of the lineup, even with ridiculous depth, and assume there isn't a toll.

The Wings just keep paying the toll, grinding out 3-1 victories on back-to-back nights. Zetterberg is expending a ton of energy colliding with Crosby, so the Wings leaned on their next available master creator -- Helm!

The 22-year-old has been an energetic revelation in these playoffs, and he ignited the Wings in an explosive second period. Down 1-0, Helm won a crucial faceoff, then charged straight to the net to screen Fleury. And sure enough, Ericsson's shot came zipping past for Detroit's first goal.

At one point, as the noise grew and the pace quickened, Malkin and Helm took turns making end-to-end rushes. Out of nowhere, the Wings were lit, and they grabbed control.

"I think Helmer has been great," Mike Babcock said. "If you thought Ericsson and (Ville) Leino and Abdelkader and Helm were playing for us, I wouldn't think we were in the Stanley Cup Final."

It takes a village, I guess. The Wings finally took a 2-1 lead in the second period, with Tomas Holmstrom doing the heavy work, keeping the puck in, then racing to the net. As Malkin knocked Holmstrom into Fleury, Valtteri Filppula picked up the puck and backhanded it in.

Holmer, Helmer, whatever, the Wings were flying. Zetterberg and Crosby were exchanging scoring chances and Osgood was making clutch saves, except for when Zetterberg was making a clutch save.

The Wings aren't dominant but they're doing the strange and important things. If they somehow can keep it up, they will be incredibly hard to stop.


Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz gets checked into the Wings bench. Kunitz ... (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin's shot gets by Chris Osgood in the ... (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)
Nicklas Lidstrom goes high to avoid the check from Penguins forward Chris ... (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)
Henrik Zetterberg mixes it up with Evgeni Malkin late in the third period. ... (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)
More Bob Wojnowski