Commentary

3 magic -- not tragic -- number for Hossa

Numbers adding up for Hawks winger in quest to avoid dreaded three-peat

Updated: May 30, 2010, 5:05 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Sorry Pittsburgh, it's not going to happen again. Drink another Iron City to quell that pain. Same to you, Detroit. Put some cash on 81 at your downtown casino, because he's going to be lucky.

The Marian Hossa Jinx is over. There will be no three-peat. Mark it down and circle it and then come to Chicago to watch the parade.

[+] EnlargeMarian Hossa
Dave Sandford/Getty ImagesMarian Hossa made Troy Brouwer look good in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, setting him up for two goals.

I know it's only 1-0, but I'm comfortable in that prediction. Mostly because the Blackhawks, like the Blues Brothers, are on a mission from the big guy upstairs.

That's right, Rocky Wirtz.

Can you imagine it? A Wirtz and a Hossa winning the Stanley Cup together? This is dogs-and-cats-living-together type of stuff. Next thing you know, Bill Buckner will return to Chicago to replace Lou Piniella and manage a World Series winner for the Cubs.

But before we journey to fantasyland, let's talk about reality. And the reality Saturday night was that Hossa had two of the prettiest assists you'll see, hitting Troy Brouwer for goals in the first and second periods of a wild 6-5 win for the Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. The Hawks last won a Stanley Cup in 1961 and got swept in their last appearance in 1992. Winning the first game for the second straight series was huge.

"The first game is always huge because you want to get the momentum going," Hossa said. "It's always about the momentum in the finals."

Momentum was a tricky thing to hold in this game because the goal scoring was at such a ridiculous pace in the first two periods that No. 1 Blackhawks fan Vince Vaughn was probably reminded of his NHL '93 prowess in "Swingers."

Speaking of Vaughn, who sits faithfully in the same corner glass seats every playoff game, sources tell me he gave Hossa -- the "Mikey" of this crew -- his Swingers' "You're-a-bear-with-big-claws" speech before the game.

OK, that didn't happen. But it should. Maybe Vaughn could give a version of it to the "Money Line" of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Dustin Byfuglien, which finished scoreless, with a combined -9.

Why the Money Line? You can bet on their production one way or another. Forget the goals, think of how many jerseys those three sell.

Hossa has gotten a commensurate amount of guff in North America and presumably his home country of Slovakia for being on consecutive Stanley Cup losers, and he's been naturally frustrated with his lack of scoring in the playoffs.

Hossa has only two goals, which is one less than defenseman Brent Seabrook, and he's admitted that the lack of closing power has left him frustrated. But he came into the Cup finals with nine assists, tying him for third on the team, and is now a plus-10, which is tops on the Hawks.

Hossa plays on the line with Patrick Sharp and Troy Brouwer, which scored three goals in the back-and-forth win.

"They're both great shooters," Hossa said. "Someone has to pass the puck. Troy was in great position, and he kept getting open. I just tried to find him, because he was in a better position, and he made two great shots."

Hossa had six goals in 23 playoff games for Detroit last season. Not a bad number, but considering he bolted from Pittsburgh for a better shot at the finals, the Yinzers let him have it. When Pittsburgh lost to Detroit in the finals the previous season, Hossa scored 12 goals and had 14 assists for the Penguins in the postseason.

Bad as the endings were, his sangfroid in this wild game was a boon for a team filled with young talent.

"Probably true," he said. "Because you've been in these types of games, you've went through it. You try to keep your composure and keep your game and not try to run around and try to be somebody else."

The 31-year-old Hossa signed a 12-year, $62.8 million contract last summer (In the unlikely event it gets completed, he'll go right to Legend Ambassador), and then immediately underwent shoulder surgery, making some wonder if the Hawks got damaged goods. Hossa missed the first two months but made his presence felt first in practice and then in games. He had 24 goals and 27 assists in 57 games and played for Slovakia in the Olympics.

He admitted before this series that he is frustrated with a lack of finishing power.

"I'm getting close chances," he said. "But for whatever reason the puck doesn't want to jump in."

His teammates believe any criticism of Hossa's production should be overruled with what he can do on the ice to make them better.

"Anybody who watched the game out there can't say Hoss isn't contributing because he has two goals," Sharp said. "He's our best forward out there. Every time he had the puck he was making plays, beating guys one-on-one. Brouw will tell you his two goals were all because of Hoss. They were great shots, but Hoss did the work. He makes the game easy to play with out there. I thought our line played well out there, created some chances, and mostly because of 81."

On Brouwer's first goal Hossa deked James Van Riemsdyk to make him think he was going to shoot, but he backhanded the puck to Brouwer for a 38-foot slapshot to tie the game 1-1.

Brouwer scored again late in the second to give the Hawks a 5-4 lead. This time Hossa found him from the back of the net charging to the net.

"Hoss is obviously a great player in this league, and everybody knows it," Brouwer said. "He has been for a long time. So the other team is going to key on him a little bit more than someone like me. That gives me an opportunity to get open. He's so good with his puck possession and vision. With him you've got to let him do this thing, get open, and he'll find you."

For all the numbers going against Hossa right now, he knows the only one that matters is three. That's how many more games the Hawks need to win.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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