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Detroit Red Wings Pavel Datsyuk cuts a turn during team practice in Pittsburgh Wednesday, June 3, 2009. (Frank Gunn)
Detroit Red Wings Pavel Datsyuk cuts a turn during team practice in Pittsburgh Wednesday, June 3, 2009. (Frank Gunn)

Detroit's depth proving the key Add to ...

A little good fortune goes a long way in determining the Stanley Cup champion, and usually a big part along the providential path is some luck on the winning team's side in the injury department.

But that hasn't been the case for the Detroit Red Wings this spring.

The mighty Red Wings have survived ailments to key players such as Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Kris Draper but find themselves a victory away from celebrating their fifth Stanley Cup championship in 12 seasons.

"I think our depth has really come through this year," Draper said. "I think more than ever this has been, from the start of the playoffs to where we are right now, an unbelievable team effort.

"You look at the guys that we've had scoring goals, game-winning goals and overtime goals. [Darren Helm]has done an unbelievable job. [Justin] Abdelkader came in and played great for us. From top to bottom, it's been an unbelievable effort."

Rookie defenceman Jonathan Ericsson was also solid when his club was missing Rafalski and then Lidstrom. Another freshman, Ville Leino, filled in admirably as a fourth-liner.

Even when Draper, who has been hampered by a groin injury and missed 15 playoffs games, was healthy enough to return to action last week, Detroit coach Mike Babcock held him out because the fill-ins had played so well.

Datsyuk, of course, was a different story. When he was deemed ready to return after a seven-game absence due to a sore foot, he was back in at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday evening. The Wings managed four wins without Datsyuk, but with him in the lineup, Detroit's confidence soared in its 5-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins with Game 6 back at Mellon Arena tomorrow.

With Datsyuk playing again, Helm could return to his checking and energy role. Third-line centre Valtteri Filppula, who scored early in the second period for a 2-0 lead, no longer had the pressure of being a top six forward.

Would the Penguins be in their position if either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin missed a stretch of seven playoff games this spring?

"Sometimes, if you look at teams that can't sustain for long periods of time or can't win night after night in our league, it's usually because they don't have enough players that can do it," Babcock said. "If you're relying on one or two guys all the time, in the end you can't win night after night. We're all human, and it just doesn't work like that. You're too easy to be checked, too easy to be injured and too easy to be shut down.

"In a [salary]cap world … I'm a big believer in your drafting. [Detroit assistant general manager]Jimmy Nill and his people are so important, but [Grand Rapids coach]Curt Fraser on our farm team is so important because of the development of your players … If you take Helm and you take Ericsson and even the contributions of [Abdelkader]and Leino out of the line for us, we're not playing."

The Red Wings have used 25 different players in their playoff run and have had 10 different players score their 15 game-winning goals, compared to the Pittsburgh, which has used 23 players and had eight different Penguins score their 14 game-winners.

Former Detroit coach Scotty Bowman believed that in his three Stanley Cup victories at the helm of the Red Wings, there was an underlying point of inspiration. In 1997, it was ending the organization's 42-year drought. The following spring, it was to win for defenceman Vladimir Konstantinov, whose career ended in a limousine accident shortly after that first win.

In 2002, the motivation was to win for veterans like Dominik Hasek, Luc Robitaille and Steve Duchesne who had never won a Stanley Cup.

This season, Marian Hossa's decision to join the Red Wings instead of signing a more lucrative contract elsewhere and the challenge of repeating is driving them.

"I think the whole idea of repeating, the expectations we have on ourselves leading up to training camp, it's hard to win it," said Detroit's Daniel Cleary. "It's even harder to get back and win it again the in next year.

"With the addition of Hossa, it's really been a driving force for us. His determination and his will have rubbed off on us. He played hard the last game. For me personally, you know, I feel that the ability to try to repeat is something that you thrive on."

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