The two injuries added to a missing players list already including big forward Johan Franzen. The loss of Stuart's big frame and Datsyuk's seemingly effortless offensive abilities added to the team's road fatigue turned out to be a losing combination. The injury to Stuart was perhaps the most important of the two.
It came when he and Phoenix's Steven Goertzen were chasing down a puck in the Detroit end. Some minuscule contact between Goertzen and Stuart caused the latter tumble head-first toward the endboards. There was nothing malicious about the play. It was just bad luck that Stuart lost his balance in such a vulnerable position.
Replays showed Stuart literally hit the boards headfirst, which raised the immediate concern about a serious neck injury. That he lay motionless while the trainer ran out added to the concern. Stuart told Booth Newspapers' Ansar Khan after the game,
A relief not just for Stuart, to be sure. He was able to get off the ice on his own two feet, though not without the help of Kris Draper and Datsyuk. The team later told the media that he was sore, but otherwise okay, and would not return. The Wings and Stuart certainly dodged one of sports' biggest bullets last night.
The loss of Stuart jumbled the lineup. Fortunately for head coach Mike Babcock, he had "swing man" Derek Meech in the lineup playing forward. Meech was able to move to the blueline and play a reasonable game as a defenseman. The move put extra pressure on the shortened forward bench, however, and that may have contributed to Datsyuk's eventual departure from the game.
Datsyuk played last shift at 5:06 of the third period, leaving just after the first TV timeout. The FS Detroit crew had no information until after the game when Mike Babcock told them Datsyuk had a sore hip. By the third period, the Coyotes had the game well in hand, so the absence of Datsyuk did not have much to do with the outcome. It does, however, likely mean Datsyuk will not go to Montreal for the All Star Game. Even if he feels good enough to play, the best thing for him and the Wings would be to take the break.
Last night was one of the Wings' least inspiring efforts of the season. The Coyotes played a heck of a game, but Detroit looked like they just wanted to go home. Now they can. The hope here, obviously, is that they come back refreshed and healthy Tuesday in Columbus.