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Hossa putting awesome skills to good use

Wednesday, 05.14.2008 / 8:48 AM / Game-Day Skate

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

Last night, the Penguins 4-1 win over the Flyers gave them a commanding 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Watch Marian Hossa's winning goal
A few thoughts as we ponder the complete domination of the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins thus far in the conference finals.

Hurrah for Hossa -- Marian Hossa didn’t do much for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the regular season after coming over from the Atlanta Thrashers at the trade deadline. The playoffs? That’s another story.

Hossa had the overtime goal that eliminated the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Now, he has added two more goals in Tuesday’s Game 3 of the Eastern Finals against Philadelphia, including a brilliant solo effort that proved to be the winner in a 4-1 victory.

Hossa said he had a feeling it was going to be a good night.

“Sometimes you've got a kind of feeling, you just feel better than the other day,” he said. “I just felt like, you know, my legs were moving pretty good tonight. I just tried to skate and to take the puck wide when Sid (Crosby) kept feeding me. And that's my kind of job, you know. And I tried to backcheck. I just felt that way, and you know, my teammates did an excellent job, too, helping me.”
Surprise -- It’s no secret that the Pittsburgh Penguins have some of the NHL’s top guns -- players like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Hossa. What has surprised the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals is the Penguins’ commitment to defense.

The Flyers have just five goals in the first three games of the series -- all losses. They managed only one goal on just 18 shots in a 4-1 loss Tuesday.

"We had chances tonight but we were missing the net and they were doing some good things like blocking shots. We just need one of those games where the pucks we throw at the net start going in like they have been for them.” - Flyers forward Joffrey Lupul
“I think they have really tightened up since the start of the year,” Flyers forward Joffrey Lupul said. “They added some workers. (Pascal) Dupuis and (Marian) Hossa are good defensive players and their defense is playing as a pretty solid unit.”

With fewer opportunities, Lupul says, the Flyers can’t miss the ones they do get -- they missed the net on 10 shots in Game 3 and had 14 others blocked.

“It is tough right now, but it is not like we are unable to penetrate,” he said. “We can get in there and get chances.  We had chances tonight but we were missing the net and they were doing some good things like blocking shots.  We just need one of those games where the pucks we throw at the net start going in like they have been for them.”

Flyers center Mike Richards feels his team also has to play smarter.

“They turn a lot of pucks over when we try to do too much with the puck and then their forwards counter the other way,” he said. “They have speed and the capability to beet you off the rush.”

Slow start, big cost -- If nothing else, the Flyers have learned that they can’t keep spotting the Penguins a lead and hope to come back. Pittsburgh led 2-0 less than eight minutes into Game 3, which took the crowd out of the game and forced the Flyers to play from behind for the third-straight game.

“I think we know now that they play very well with the lead,” Philadelphia coach John Stevens said. “They've got a defense that's experienced. (Sergei) Gonchar plays huge minutes right now, and he controls the play. Ideally you want to play with the lead or play even, because you play into their hands right now if you get behind.”

And getting behind is not a good idea against these Penguins -- they’ve scored first nine times in their 12 playoff games and won all nine of them.

Pens coach Michel Therrien says getting the lead was especially important in a hostile environment like the Wachovia Center.

“That was kind of our game plan, to make sure we pursued the puck really well, and try to attack them as quick as we can,” he said. “(We) ended up having a two-goal lead, and that took away their emotion -- took away the emotion that they could go with the crowd.  But after that, we committed defensively, and we didn't give up much.

Sid the Leader -- Sidney Crosby hasn’t been as noticeable in this series as teammates like Evgeni Malkin and Marian Hossa. But he’s been very good -- his two assists in Game 3 gave him five points in the series and a League-high 19 in the Playoffs.

Crosby had just one shot on goal in Game 3, but he was dangerous every time he was on the ice. At age 20, the Penguins’ captain is also fulfilling the leadership role that goes along with wearing the “C.”

“A guy like Crosby, he's our captain,” coach Michel Therrien said. “He wants to make sure he's a great leader. On a big game like that, you're looking for your great leader to show the way, to dictate the way to the rest of the team.

“Tonight I thought he was fantastic, and he stuck to the plan, too. You can't ask more for a leader like Crosby's doing right now for this hockey team.”

Guidance counselor — When Mike Babcock signed on to coach the Detroit Red Wings, he was advised to build a relationship with one of his predecessors.

"We talk about hockey, but we talk about life and he's a good man and you know I'm big into that, lifelong learning. I think Scotty is the best in that in the game." - Mike Babcock on Scotty Bowman
But Scotty Bowman isn’t just any coach -- he’s the winningest bench boss in NHL history and now serves as an adviser in the Wings’ front office.

“Scotty and I had a relationship that started basically when I coached Anaheim and we beat Detroit in the first round (in 2003),” Babcock said. “He wasn't a coach anymore. But that's kind of how we got started. And then during the lockout year we were in the World Championships together.

“Basically what I did is even when I was putting together my staff, I phoned him.  Some of the guys had been on his staff before. So we talked about how he put together a staff. Then we just kind of got to the point that we've become good friends now. We talk about hockey, but we talk about life and he's a good man and you know I'm big into that, lifelong learning. I think Scotty is the best in that in the game. I think he continued to change from decade to decade and he had a passion for it and he still does.”

Having someone like Bowman is an incredible resource.

“We’ve gotten to be good friends now, and I enjoy it a lot,” he said. “It's great to be able to call the best coach of all time any time you want and say, ‘What do you think about this?’ We talk about matchups all the time. We talk about who he thinks is the best player.

“We don't always agree, but that doesn't matter. I think when you have a sounding board, sometimes that's very, very effective.”
Contact John Kreiser at jkreiser@nhl.com

Quote of the Day

The groove of being behind a bench is going to be interesting at first, but thank God we have a few exhibition games to get rid of those cobwebs. Overall the excitement of it all and the freshness and coming back refreshed, all those things are going to be assets. If [the players] come ready to give their best effort in practice and games, good things are going to happen. I'm always looking for results. It's not always on the scoreboard. It's winning and building something.

— Bryan Trottier on making his return to coaching as an assistant with the Sabres