Commentary

Will this Marian Hossa please stand up in the East finals?

Updated: May 4, 2008, 9:03 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

PITTSBURGH -- There has been something confounding about watching Marian Hossa this postseason.

Unable to convert for long stretches of play, sometimes fading into complete invisibility. Then, suddenly brilliant, almost dominant, as he was Sunday as the Penguins dispatched the New York Rangers with a 3-2 overtime victory. It was a game and a series that ended with Hossa's second goal of the game 7:10 into the extra session.

Pittsburgh will now take on hated intrastate rival Philadelphia. And if the Penguins are to continue their march toward their first Stanley Cup finals appearance since 1992, they will need to see much more of the brilliant Hossa and far less of his hard-to-locate alter ego.

More from Game 5

• There was more than a little satisfaction for Sidney Crosby at putting the Rangers away after much preseries discussion about whether Crosby embellishes fouls to get calls or complains too much to officials.

"This feels good," Crosby said. "There's a lot of stuff that's said and that goes on in a playoff series. It feels good when you come out on the other side of it, on the winning side, when you're shaking hands. So there's a little more reward in this one for sure."

Asked to elaborate on what was said, he would only say, "The crap."

"You know what it is, I'm not going to say it. But it's always like that in the playoffs," Crosby said.

• The Rangers had a legitimate beef when Chris Drury was cut in the face by a Ryan Malone high stick in the second period, but no penalty was called.

"We thought, obviously there should have been a penalty called," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "The game happens fast and you can't see everything that's going on out there as an official. We understand and accept that.

"It's interesting. If there's one thing that's been consistent, it seems night after night there are different teams wondering about calls and non-calls. Maybe it's a backhanded testimony to the speed of the game and the talent that people play with. I'm not sure."

• If Crosby et al thought the fans at Madison Square Garden gave them a rude welcome, wait until they get to Philadelphia for Games 3 and 4 of the East finals. One local radio personality referred to it on air as "Filth-adelphia" during a pregame broadcast Sunday.

"As you say, there's no love lost," Ryan Whitney said. "We don't like them, they don't like us. It's pretty simple. But they're a great hockey team, so we're going to have to play well."

• A nice introduction to the NHL for Rangers rookie Lauri Korpikoski, who was called up from Hartford of the AHL last week and saw his first action Sunday. The 19th overall pick of the 2004 draft scored his first NHL goal 2:03 into the third period. The Finn played 7:14 and acquitted himself well.

• When Pittsburgh tough guy Georges Laraque was assessed a slashing penalty in the second period, it marked his first penalty minutes of the postseason.

-- Scott Burnside

"He got rewarded. Marian Hossa really worked tonight," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said of Hossa's goal that beat Henrik Lundqvist from the slot. "He played an outstanding game and he was dangerous every time he was on the ice."

Hossa is a bit of an anomaly here in Pittsburgh.

While players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Ryan Whitney and Ryan Malone have grown up together, Hossa is the hired gun.

The potential unrestricted free agent was the most sought-after forward at the trade deadline and the Penguins landed him at the very last second, giving up two roster players, Erik Christensen and Colby Armstrong, a top prospect in Angelo Esposito and a first-round draft pick.

Hossa has collected five goals and five assists in nine games and the Penguins are 8-1 in these playoffs. Hard to quibble with those results, no? Yet at times, you are left wanting. Hossa, who kills penalties and is on the team's top power-play unit, is almost always in the midst of dangerous offensive plays. Yet his inability to finish is perplexing.

On Sunday, the Penguins were in danger of repeating the pattern of Game 4, in which they were unable to score despite controlling the play for the first half of the game. The Rangers ultimately scored first and took life from a Jaromir Jagr goal to go on to win 3-0.

Hossa was among a handful of Penguins who had glorious scoring opportunities through the first half of Game 5, but couldn't convert. The longer the game remained scoreless, the better it seemed to be for the Rangers, who were ultimately outshot 40-22. Then, with Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival in the penalty box serving the first of three minor penalties he earned in the period, Hossa made a great diving play inside the New York blue line to keep the puck onside. The Penguins continued to control the play, and a few moments later, Hossa converted a lovely Malone pass to make it 1-0.

"The thing about Hossa is that he's not only a goal scorer, but he can also play both sides of the ice," Therrien said. "He's a special player. He doesn't cheat out there. He played hard and got rewarded for his efforts."

Malkin made it 2-0 less than four minutes later with another terrific individual effort, turning and chipping a backhand over Lundqvist's shoulders. The Penguins held the Rangers without a shot for the final 14:50 of the second period and the first 1:22 of the third.

Reporters in the press box were so sure this game and series would go to the Penguins, they began canceling reservations in New York for Game 6 and booking hotels for the Eastern Conference finals.

But the Rangers then scored twice in 1:22 and those reservations suddenly seemed in jeopardy, not to mention premature.

Marc-Andre Fleury made a sparkling save on a Brendan Shanahan deflection late in regulation to keep the game tied at 2. When the Penguins failed to convert on a late double-minor high-sticking penalty assessed to Chris Drury, one wondered if the Penguins were going to be doomed by their inability to seal the deal.

"You try to block that stuff out, but you're human," said Pascal Dupuis, whose nifty give-and-go pass with Crosby set in motion the rush that would lead to the winning goal. "Deep inside your head you're thinking, 'It just seems it's not turning our way today. The hockey gods aren't on our side.' But, obviously, when you work hard and you keep going at it and going at it, I guess the bounces are going to turn your way, which it did in overtime."

Dupuis was the throw-in on the Hossa deal, but his value to the team has been significant. Like Hossa, Dupuis kills penalties and logs power-play time.

Having played alongside Hossa when the Atlanta Thrashers were swept in the first round by these same New York Rangers last season, Dupuis also knows Hossa arrived here with significant questions about the ability to raise his game in the playoffs.

"I'm so glad that Hoss got the monkey off his back with a clutch goal for us," Dupuis said.

Hossa claimed he did not know what his teammate meant by a playoff monkey, but he did acknowledge that people wondered about his ability to get the job done in the postseason.

"Well, I had some bad playoffs and I had some good playoffs," the 29-year-old Slovak said. "I cannot control what other people say about my playoff performance, but I always try and I'm with a great team right now and things are much easier and I just enjoy the ride."

In the past, this is the kind of game in which Hossa would have enjoyed a bevy of scoring chances only to fail to bury any of them, and whispers of talent and clutch being mutually exclusive qualities when it came to Hossa would become louder and louder.

As the third period wound down and Hossa couldn't find the back of the net with Lundqvist down and out, one wondered if Sunday would be one of those days, too.

Because it wasn't, because Hossa delivered the biggest goal of his career, perhaps reveals something about him as a player. This win certainly reveals something about the Penguins. Logic suggested when the game went to overtime and they failed to score during the Drury double-minor, they might fold. But they didn't, which speaks to the Penguins' mental maturity and wealth of talent that will be difficult for any opponent to suppress.

"A lot of people still think that we're a young team. We are, but these wins are just making us grow as a team, making us mature as a team," Whitney said. "It's happening, slowly but surely."

You might say the same thing about Marian Hossa.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.

ALSO SEE