One year ago Sunday, the Nashville Predators were in Joe Louis Arena battling the Detroit Red Wings. With the game tied 1-1 and the clock ticking under ten seconds in the third period, it looked like the teams were headed to overtime.
It was then that Pavel Datsyuk picked up the puck in the neutral zone, metaphorically undressed then Predators defenseman Ryan Suter, and then beat Pekka Rinne up high for the game-winner with just 5.8 ticks remaining on the clock.
Tuesday night, Datsyuk was making things miserable for the Predators once again. In fact, he has pretty much made a career of making the game’s best players look something closer to average at times.
With Nashville already up 2-0 and on a power play, Datsyuk forced a Jonathon Blum turnover behind Rinne’s net. Datsyuk found Daniel Cleary in the slot, where he fired one by Rinne to halve the Nashville lead.
“He’s probably the best player,” Rinne said. “The way he works and he always plays up and down the ice. He is always dangerous. Even shorthanded, he is dangerous. Like tonight, the first goal, he stole the puck and made the play to Cleary and Cleary scored.”
Later in the game, just over 30 seconds after the Predators regained the lead on Roman Josi’s first goal of the season, Datsyuk stickhandled through three Predators before tucking the puck underneath Rinne to once again tie the game.
“He is so strong on the puck,” Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. “If you see him off the ice, he doesn’t look that big or that strong, but man is he strong on the puck. He’s incredibly strong for his size.”
That was the final goal of regulation.
Less than a minute into overtime, Shea Weber collected Colin Wilson’s rebound off of the end boards to beat Detroit goaltender Jonas Gustavsson for the game-winner.
Unlike a year ago, Datsyuk did not cost the Predators any points in the standings. He did earn one for his team, but Nashville came out on top in this one despite the fact that Datsyuk had a goal and an assist in 21:03 of ice time. He had a team-high seven shots on goal and won 15 of 24 faceoffs.
“He was really dangerous tonight,” Rinne said. “When you are not playing, he is fun to watch, but when you are playing, he is a big challenge. Tonight he brought his a-game, but luckily, we got the win.”
Rinne’s coach agreed that Datsyuk is something to behold, but when he plays against your team, it makes for a nerve-wracking 60 plus minutes.
“He’s a joy as a coach to watch on film,” Trotz said. “He is not a joy when you are playing against him. He’s phenomenal.”