CHICAGO – Let’s say you play for the Blackhawks.
Let’s say you’re trying to defend Detroit Red Wings magician-forward Pavel Datsyuk.
Nine times out of 10, you’re probably going to look foolish.
That doesn’t mean you’re a bad hockey player – because you’re not. In this thought experiment, you are a great hockey player, just not as great as the Wings’ 34-year-old center.
Don’t take my word for it.
Ask Patrick Sharp, who so far has been the Hawks’ most valuable player of the postseason. Sharp has six goals and several key takeaways in the playoffs but still isn’t sure whether the best strategy against Datsyuk is to sit back and defend the puck or charge forward and play the body.
“I mean, pick your poison,” Sharp said Friday after the Hawks practiced at the United Center. “He’s one of those guys that can be standing still and make you look silly. He’s physical, as well, so if you rush at him, he’s always got the ability to knock you over.
“It’s pretty scary when he’s coming down at you with the puck.”
Then again, the Hawks have an entire team that looks pretty scary to the rest of the league. They’ll look to increase their series lead to 2-0 today in the Western Conference semifinals when they host the Red Wings for a nationally televised matinee game.
The Hawks are smart enough to prepare for a Game 2 pushback from the Wings, who were dominated in Wednesday’s series opener while being outscored, 4-1, and outshot, 42-21. Remarkably, Datsyuk registered no shots on goal after recording 49 points in the regular season.
Another goose egg is unlikely from the talented Russian on Saturday. He had seven points in seven games against the Anaheim Ducks in Round 1 and has 101 career points in the playoffs.
That’s why Hawks coach Joel Quenneville told his players to pay special attention to No. 13.
“Still dangerous,” said Quenneville, who coached the St. Louis Blues when Datsyuk entered the league in 2001-02. “I think that when you watch him play, there are so many things that he can do in the course of a game. He’s still a threat no matter what situation he’s presented with.
“He’s one of those players that does things nobody else can do. He does things that can wow you. So that’s an ongoing challenge.”
Of the Hawks’ forwards, Patrick Kane’s playing style most closely resembles that of Datsyuk. Both have the ability to weave through defenders, and both can fire a puck to the back of the net just as easily as they can snap a perfect pass to the tape of a teammates’ stick.
Those similarities are no coincidence. Although Kane is a decade younger than Datsyuk, he studied the Wings’ playmaker during his formative years as a star prospect.
“He’s a great player,” Kane said. “He’s one of those guys that before I came to the NHL, any time the Red Wings were on TV, you’d try to watch because of the things he does on the ice.”
Nothing foolish about that.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.