May 11, 2013 at 11:42 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Wings duo of Zetterberg, Datsyuk steadies teammates through emotional win

Henrik Zetterberg on Game 6 OT win
Henrik Zetterberg on Game 6 OT win: Captain says team stayed positive despite mistakes late in regulation that forced overtime. He looks forward to Game 7.

Detroit — They were all over the ice, carrying the puck, the team and the Red Wings' playoff hopes with them. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk weren't going away easily, and neither are the Wings.

From the brink and back, the Wings made another crazy trip and pulled out another crazy game. They blew a late lead but Zetterberg wouldn't let them blow the game. His slap shot 1:04 into overtime gave them a 4-3 victory over the Ducks Friday night and pushed this rollicking series to a Game 7.

Back to Anaheim it spins for a Sunday night decider, and who knows where the next twist will come. This one had everything, from Wings control to Wings collapse to Wings recovery. They're getting the hang of this cardiac craziness, grabbing all three of their victories in overtime, and that might bode well for a tense Game 7.

In this one, they squandered a 3-1 lead with four minutes left and were wobbling, but Zetterberg, who scored two goals and assisted on Datsyuk's, wouldn't let them fall. It helped to have Justin Abdelkader back on the top line after his suspension, and the Wings kept charging to the net. They let up late but picked up after that, and the captain ended it quickly. In overtime, Datsyuk won the faceoff and Zetterberg dug out the puck, and his blast sent the Joe Louis Arena crowd into delirium.

"I think we felt we played too good to lose this one," Zetterberg said. "We said (before overtime) we were playing well, except for that last part. We just had to flush it out — what's done is done. In overtime, it doesn't really matter how you got there."

In playoff hockey, the big shots have to take the big shots, and did they ever. Zetterberg hadn't scored in the series but was playing well, and so was Datsyuk. Their leadership was noticeable late in regulation and during the break before overtime, when Zetterberg and others stood up and basically told everyone to calm down and start skating again.

It was the same message Mike Babcock delivered when he called a timeout after Bobby Ryan's goal tied it with 2:37 left.

"I said we worked way too hard, and we stopped playing," Babcock said afterward. "You can't hope yourself to win, you gotta play yourself to win, so just play the darn game."

Cutting it

We said all along, the Wings' best chance was for their best players to buy time for the youngsters. The Wings looked scattered when they surrendered the late goals, but they also showed decent discipline. They weren't whistled for a single penalty in the game, which left the Ducks muttering and their coach, Bruce Boudreau, cracking that it was "pretty coincidental."

Abdelkader brought energy after his two-game, uh, rest, and his physical presence gave Zetterberg and Datsyuk more room to operate.

"Those guys played a tremendous game, put us on their backs like they have all year," Abdelkader said. "They're world-class players and world-class people. I'm just fortunate to be playing at the same time with them."

The Wings made it to Game 6 on the wave of fresh young legs, but to go any farther, one of their familiar stars would have to lift them. They have three strong candidates — Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Jimmy Howard -- and there's only one Datsyuk.

The man with the magician's hands and dancer's legs had to create something, because in this series, there aren't many openings. That's precisely what he did in the first period, taking a pass from Zetterberg and weaving to the front of the net, stick-handling as if the puck were on a string. Datsyuk snapped a backhander high behind Jonas Hiller and the Wings had a well-earned 1-0 lead.

This was the energy they had to deliver in this exhausting, cross-country battle. Once again, the crowd was lit and the Wings kept feeding it. Even with all the travel, effort couldn't ebb, which is why Babcock was talking earlier in the day about lawnmowers, naturally. The analogy was, it sometimes takes a while to get a mower revved up, but the Wings needed to be humming from the start.

Breaking bad, breaking good

They were due for a first-period revving and they controlled the play, firing pucks madly. Howard has been excellent at weathering early pressure but it wasn't wise to keep tempting fate, and the stars were overdue. Zetterberg didn't have a goal in the series and Datsyuk had one, and as well as they'd played, you knew that wasn't going to last.

"We have a few good players on this team that love these situations, and Hank came up huge for us," Niklas Kronwall said. "We made it a little tougher on ourselves than we had to, giving away two goals for no reason. We stuck with it and found a second wave."

For stretches, the Datsyuk-Zetterberg-Abdelkader line dominated. The Ducks were dangerous, especially in the second period, but to borrow a baseball term, they left plenty of ducks on the pond. They scored on a freakish bounce off Wings defenseman Brendan Smith, who couldn't avoid the puck after Kyle Palmieri clanked it off the post, and it was 1-1.

That was a bad break for Smith but the Wings got a similar break of their own. They kept pressing in the third period and Abdelkader's shot tipped off Dan Cleary, clanked off the post and caromed off Hiller for a 3-1 lead.

Time to exhale, right? Maybe that's what the Wings foolishly did in the final four minutes. That's what Valtteri Filppula appeared to do with a sloppy giveaway, leaving the puck behind his own net for Emerson Etem, who tucked it past Howard. The Ducks tied it less than a minute later when Kyle Quincey fell (tripped?) and Smith lost Ryan in front of the net. Howard didn't have much of a chance at either one, and the Ducks had forged a 3-3 tie.

The series was about to be over, or right back on. And as he'd done all game, Zetterberg made sure it was right back on. He almost ended it in the final minute of regulation, stealing the puck and beating Hiller with a quick shot, but it nicked off the goalpost.

Zetterberg earned a reprieve and so did the Wings, and now we have a Game 7 reprisal back in California. The Ducks like their home-ice advantage and the Wings love how their stars are playing. Something is about to give, and the Wings get another shot because their best players wouldn't give in.

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com

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Series tied at 3

Game 1: Anaheim 3-1
Game 2: Detroit 5-4 (OT)
Game 3: Anaheim 4-0
Game 4: Detroit 3-2 (OT)
Game 5: Anaheim 3-2 (OT)
Friday: Detroit 4-3 (OT)
Sunday: at Anaheim, 10 p.m.

Detroit's Niklas Kronwall, Mikael Samuelsson, Henrik Zetterberg, and Pavel Datsyuk celebrate Zetterberg's third period goal. Zetterberg broke out of scoring slump to score twice, including the overtime winner, to lift the Wings to a 4-3 victory in Game 6. / David Guralnick/Detroit News
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