Hossa's decision could take ironic turn
DETROIT -- With Game 5 looming Saturday night, we're closing in on finding out whether Hossa's Gambit might be forever known as Hossa's Folly.
One of the compelling storylines heading into the Stanley Cup finals between Detroit and Pittsburgh -- a series that has become a best-of-three affair with the Penguins' two straight wins at home this week -- was the Marian Hossa saga.
At the end of last year's postseason, the blue-chip Slovak forward ruminated on whether to re-sign with Pittsburgh, which had acquired him at the trade deadline, or take his chances elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent.
His decision to chase a Stanley Cup in Detroit, where he signed a one-year deal, was a slap in the face to the Penguins' organization because the implication was clear -- after seeing the Wings up close in the 2008 Cup finals with the Penguins, Hossa believed Pittsburgh wasn't championship material.
Plain and simple, he didn't think the Pens were good enough.
Now, though, with the series and a Stanley Cup championship on the line, the ultimate irony of the drama may be that Hossa's lack of production could be a factor in the Penguins' winning their first Stanley Cup since 1992.
After registering 26 points last postseason playing mostly with Sidney Crosby, Hossa has gone dry for much of this spring. He has scored in just three games the entire postseason and has 14 points overall. To be fair, he did manage to score two goals in each of those three games and was a key factor in the Wings' victories in Games 4 and 5 of the Western Conference finals.
But for a Red Wings team that has been without one of its top players in Pavel Datsyuk -- expected back for Game 5 on Saturday -- and has squandered a two-game lead in the finals, this might be a good time for Hossa to step up and prove that he and the Red Wings made the right choice.
"I think sometimes good things are going your way, you're getting on the board and things are kind of rolling for you, right?" Hossa said Friday in trying to describe why he has seen his playoff production drop precipitously. "And sometimes, when things aren't going your way, you just maybe start thinking too much and not using your instinct instead of just keeping things simple, going to the net."
Part of Hossa's drop-off might be linked to Datsyuk's injury. The two played together in the regular season, when Hossa posted 40 goals. But at the start of the playoffs, the two had trouble clicking and then Datsyuk, who has just one goal in 13 postseason games, got hurt.
"I think, for starters, [Hossa] and Pav got off to a tough start in the playoffs and it didn't go good," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said when asked about Hossa's level of play. "And then that guy named Pav isn't here. I don't know if you've noticed that. So that affects lots of things. It affects lots of people, and it's been harder for [Hossa].
"Saying all that, though, here we are. We're in the best-of-three with two games at home, and we're pretty excited about our opportunity. So I think it's always good to evaluate these things at the end and see how they actually went."
Although he generally is considered one of the top two-way players in the game, Hossa has long battled the perception that he couldn't deliver in the playoffs, starting with his stay in Ottawa. That perception followed him to Atlanta, where he had just one assist in a four-game sweep at the hands of the New York Rangers in 2007.
But last spring, Hossa shook that label, providing consistent offense and posting 26 points, second only to the 27 registered by both Crosby and playoffs MVP Henrik Zetterberg.
All of which made his decision as a free agent in July so interesting. Now, there are persistent rumors that a long-term deal is ready to be signed by Hossa in Detroit once the season ends. Still, a loss to the Pittsburgh definitely would take the luster off that deal. What makes the story even more interesting is the Penguins weren't expected to make it this far without Hossa, who, along with Ryan Malone, represented key personnel changes from last season's team.
But trade-deadline acquisitions Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin have paid dividends. With Guerin essentially filling Hossa's role as a scoring winger, the 38-year-old actually has more points than Hossa this spring with seven goals and 15 points, including three game winners. Again, Hossa has 14 points.
Did we mention irony?
Still, Hossa said he's not trying to think too much about what hasn't gone right with so few games left in the season.
"Sometimes, you're not at the right time at the right spot, so it's a little bit of everything," Hossa said. "Don't think about it, just, you know, we've got two or three games left in the season, you just have to step back and go for it."
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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