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Krupa: Datsyuk proof playoff hockey is acquired skill

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Pavel Datsyuk

Detroit – It is something a player must experience.

The veterans can tell young ones all about playoff hockey. Coaches can coach it.

But because of better play all over the ice, tighter checking in both zones and through the middle, faster skating, keener attention to details, better goaltending, nervousness, jacked-up crowds and the threat of elimination, the maxim in the NHL is that a player must play in the playoffs to really get it.

It often does not take right away.

Even some stars play for a few seasons before playing nearly as well in the playoffs as they do in the regular season.

It was true of Pavel Datsyuk. It seems to be true of Steven Stamkos right now.

Through his first 42 playoff games, Datsyuk scored only three goals. Through 27, Stamkos has five.

"There's not a lot of room," Mike Babcock said of Gustav Nyquist, before he scored in Game 4. "It's hard to be the offensive guy you think you are."

Different experience

Playoff experience. It is different from experience in the regular season.

Compared to the Lighting, the Wings have gobs of it. And it may have given them the upper hand at certain points of the series, and through five games against a heavily-favored team.

The Lightning had 617 playoff games played on their roster, entering the series. The Red Wings had 1,130.

But subtract the 109 Valtteri Filppula played and the 94 Brenden Morrow played, and the Lightning totaled just 404.

Datsyuk had played in 145, himself, Zetterberg 125 and Niklas Kronwall 98.

Gustav Nyquist (24) even edged Stamkos (23) by a game.

Experience helped the Red Wing back to even keel after their disastrous play in Game 4 deprived them of a 2-0 lead late in the third period.

It also helped them play one of the best games of their season, in Game 5, when they finally put three consecutive well-played games together for arguably the first time in seven weeks.

It is tough coming off the mat in the regular season, let alone the playoffs. And experience helps.

Where the Red Wings lacked it in an especially critical position, in goal, with Per Mrazek entering the series with no playoff games played, it helped that the Lightning's goalie, Ben Bishop, had none, too.

It is in denying the Lightning ice, to form the potent attack that made them the most proficient offensive team during the regular season, that the Wings' experience is especially evident, according to Coach Jon Cooper.

"They're a saavy team," he said. "They've got a lot of guys who've been here before."

An even greater dearth of playoff experience for the Lightning was countered during the offseason and regular season by General Manager Steve Yzerman, who secured the services of some veteran postseason performers, including Brian Boyle (58), Ryan Callahan (63) and Braydon Coburn (72).

"The group has changed," Cooper said. "It changed last summer, when we brought in some more veteran guys."

Even some stars play for a few seasons before playing nearly as well in the playoffs as they do in the regular season.

"Well, when I first got here, they said Pav couldn't play in the playoffs," Babcock recalled, earlier in the series, when asked about Dastyuk.

"I think it's just the evolution of a player. You don't understand how hard it is. In the playoffs, you don't get much space, and if you don't score people say you can't play."

'A lot tougher'

Riley Sheahan finds that developing that playoff experience is nearly a shift-by-shift experience that accumulates benefits with repetition.

"When you keep getting touches, it helps," Sheahan said. "Especially down low.

"It feels a little more effective offensively. I think just little things like that help, and I can keep taking steps forward."

One young player who seemed to grasp the concept of playoff hockey pretty quickly is Danny DeKeyser. Before Game 6, Babcock called him "a human eraser," for the way he eliminates the mistakes of teammates.

"It's a lot tougher in the playoffs," DeKeyser said. "Everything gets a lot smaller. There's no room. There's not a lot of space to play. A lot of it's just grinding it out and moving the puck up the boards.

"That's why, this time of year, you see a lot of guys on the third or fourth lines who are succeeding.

"You just have to be patient. It's better to wait for things to happen rather than forcing plays."