Darren McCarty hit rock bottom two years ago because of a wicked cocktail of drinking, divorce and bankruptcy.

McCarty was out of hockey in November, 2007, relegated to watching the Detroit Red Wings from the stands with his son. Motivated to get his life and career back, he made sobriety, family and hockey his priorities.

He started a comeback that led to him playing 17 playoff games last season for the Red Wings and winning his fourth Stanley Cup.

McCarty hasn’t played once during these playoffs, but still has value to the organization because of the leadership he provides for Detroit’s young players, who were his teammates for much of the regular season in the AHL.

“Who would’ve thunk it?” he asked.

McCarty’s low point came in the summer of 2007 when it hit him that his four children didn’t really have a father. The mother of his children helped him start to put his life back in order, and he now has his kids with him in suburban Detroit two or three nights a week.

“It’s a great, feel-good story,” teammate Kris Draper said.

McCarty said he doesn’t have to lecture Detroit’s prospects about off-the-ice pratfalls because they’re more mature than he was at the same age.

“It’s more like Crash Davis’s role in Bull Durham, passing the torch,” he said with a smile.

Keep hitting Kunitz

Chris Kunitz had 12 points in Pittsburgh’s first 16 playoff games, including five in a two-game span against the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference finals.

But, entering Game 4, he was scoreless in four straight games.

The hard-hitting wing is still finding ways to make an impact against the Detroit Red Wings.

Kunitz was credited with 11 hits in Game 3 – more than twice the number of checks anyone else had Tuesday night – and the Penguins said they gave him credit for two more.

“That’s leaving your mark in a lot of different places,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “That’s what you count on from the guy.

“Leaving a mark, being a presence on the forecheck, going and driving to the net.”

NO SUDS FOR ME: Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk said he coped with not playing by drinking beer while he watched playoff games. Kris Draper insisted he didn’t join Datsyuk’s drinking ways while they were both out of the lineup, relegated to rooting their teammates on from the dressing room.

“I wasn’t his running partner, I can tell you that,” Draper said.

MESS ON MARIO: It’s not easy to impress Mark Messier, but Mario Lemieux has done it.

“As a player, he positioned himself as a leader, came here and turned the franchise around,” Messier said. “And, now he’s done it again as an owner.

“Success seems to follow Mario wherever he goes.”

If the Penguins win the Cup, Lemieux will become the first person to win NHL titles as a player and an owner.

CHEAP SEATS: The Penguins invite fans to watch the playoffs on a videoboard outside Mellon Arena, and Dawn Cummings has noticed the crowds getting bigger before each game.

“We’ve been coming to every one and I was lucky to get this spot in the front row at noon,” the 29-year-old fan from Monroeville, Pa., said 31/2 hours before the puck dropped. “These are the best seats in the house. You see all the action, and it gets pretty crazy out here.”

Too wild for a Red Wings fan, who was brave enough to sport a Nicklas Lidstrom jersey.

John Simons was booed as he walked through the throng of fans sitting in camping chairs, laying on blankets and inflatable mattresses with coolers packed with drinks and food.

“I tried to watch Game 3 out here, but I almost got into fights,” said the 26-year-old resident of Lincoln Park, Mich. “I’m not sure where I’m going to watch this game.”

ONE-TIMERS: Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin has a shot to be the first player to lead the NHL in points in both the regular season and postseason since Mario Lemieux did it for the Penguins in 1992. Wayne Gretzky, Guy Lafleur and Phil Esposito are the only other players to pull off the feat since 1968. … Detroit coach Mike Babcock joked before Game 4 that he was probably not running for father of the year. “I’m missing my son’s graduation today,” he said Thursday. “I missed my daughter’s birthday on Tuesday.” … Red Wings F Marian Hossa scored two goals in each of the Game 4s in the Western Conference playoffs. … With so many non-North American players becoming stars in the league, reporters from Sweden, France, Czech Republic, Finland, Slovakia and Russia are covering the finals.

AP-ES-06-04-09 1926EDT

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