|Marian Hossa's game-winning goal in Game 5 against the Rangers sent the Penguins to their first conference final since 2001. Marian Hossa highlights|
But when the Pittsburgh Penguins most needed Hossa to contribute, he showed just how great he could be as the Pens took the next step on their journey to the Stanley Cup.
Hossa scored the series-clinching overtime goal in Game 5 as the Penguins advanced to the Eastern Conference Final with a five-game defeat of the New York Rangers.
Acquired on trade-deadline day from the Atlanta Thrashers, Hossa was another ingredient in an already combustible offense that includes Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Petr Sykora and Ryan Malone.
But with all that firepower, it was a pair of goals from two unlikely sources that sparked Pittsburgh’s Game 1 comeback from a 3-0 first-period deficit. Jarkko Ruutu and Pascal Dupuis scored 14 seconds apart in the second period to make it a one-goal game, and then Hossa and Sykora scored 20 seconds apart early in the third to put the Penguins ahead, 4-3
Scott Gomez tied the game midway through the third, but Malkin tipped a Crosby shot past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist with 1:41 remaining in the game.
“A game is never finished for us," Sykora said. "We have the power to score a lot of goals here. It doesn't matter if we're down one, two, three goals."
In Game 2, the scoring was put on hold in favor of a goaltending battle between the Penguins’ Marc-Andre Fleury and Lundqvist. Fleury, the first overall pick from the talent-rich 2003 NHL Entry Draft, is doing his best to discredit those who believe goaltending is a weak spot for Pittsburgh. Fleury stopped all 26 shots he faced for his second shutout of the playoffs.
“As a goalie, it never feels good to give up four goals, so I wanted to come back and play a good game," Fleury said after Game 2.
As the series moved to New York, the Rangers had a feeling of déjà vu – a year ago, they dropped the first two games of their conference semifinal series in Buffalo before returning to Madison Square Garden and winning two straight from the Sabres.
Hossa put those thoughts on the back burner when he scored just 62 seconds into Game 3. Martin Straka tied it for the Rangers, but then Malkin, on the day he was named a Hart Trophy finalist, took over.
First, he set up Georges Laraque for a goal from in front. Malkin drew the defense toward him and centered a pass that deflected to an open Laraque wristed past Lundqvist.
“When you have the choice between covering me and covering Geno (Malkin),” Laraque said, smiling, “you cover Geno.”
Malkin then scored a power-play goal just 84 seconds later to make it 3-1 at the end of the first period. And after Ryan Callahan and Jaromir Jagr brought the Rangers back, Malkin took a pass from Crosby in the right circle, waited, and fired a wrister off the left post and behind Lundqvist with 2:07 left in the second period.
“Geno (Malkin) has been huge for us all year and that goal was really timely because they really had us back on our heels there,” said teammate Brooks Orpik.
Ryan Malone tipped in a Kris Letang shot early in the third period for the final 5-3 margin, and a 3-0 series lead.
“We are in a great position," said Hossa. “Nobody would think that we would be in this position after three games, but right now we are greedy. We want to win another one."
Their wait would be extended after Jagr had an outing that was reminiscent of his days as a Penguin. The Rangers captain had a hand in all three goals as the Rangers stayed alive with a 3-0 victory that served as the Penguins’ first loss of the playoffs in eight outings.
“We have to learn from our mistakes and we have to be strong in our building," said Hossa. "It won't be easy, but we don't want to come back here."
And thanks to Hossa, they didn’t have to.
With the game scoreless and the Penguins skating on a second-period power play, Hossa made a diving sweep to keep the puck in the Rangers’ zone. He then skated down to the right circle, took a pass from Malone and ripped a wrist shot past Lundqvist at 8:45 of the second period.
Then Malkin scored his fourth goal of the series when he drove into the Rangers’ end, spun and fired a backhander past Lundqvist.
The Rangers sucked the energy out of the deafening Mellon Arena when Lauri Korpikoski and Nigel Dawes scored in a span of 81 seconds early in the third.
The Pens held on through a furious Rangers rally, but got a late break when Chris Drury was called for high-sticking Malone. Though they failed to score on the four-minute power play that carried into overtime, the Pens were able to push the Rangers back on their heels.
Then at the 7:10 mark of the extra session, Crosby started a rush with Dupuis -- obtained with Hossa at the deadline -- and Hossa. Dupuis tried to return a pass to Crosby, but it was tipped back to Hossa, who beat Lundqvist from the slot to send the Pens to conference final for the first time since 2001.
For Hossa, the five playoff goals tie a career high, and more than make up for the no-goal, minus-6 performance in the first round of the playoffs last year – against the Rangers.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.