-- Now the fun begins.
Well, maybe not so much for Detroit Red Wings
forward Marian Hossa
Twelve months ago, Hossa stood at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh and watched the Wings celebrate their fourth Stanley Cup championship in 11 years on his sheet of ice, as Detroit won the 2008 Stanley Cup Final against the Penguins in six games.
Less than a month later, he became an unrestricted free agent and had a decision to make: He could sign a lucrative, long-term deal with the Pens, or a short-term contract with the newly crowned champs. Hossa opted for the latter, signing a one-year deal with Detroit.
Fast forward to the present. On Wednesday night, Hossa's Red Wings earned a trip the 2009 Stanley Cup Final with a 2-1 overtime victory against the Chicago Blackhawks
in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals at Joe Louis Arena.
Their opponent in the final round? You guessed it -- the Penguins. Hossa didn't have much time to celebrate Detroit's victory on Wednesday before the questions about facing his former team began flying.
"It's a unique situation right now," said Hossa, who had 40 goals and 31 assists for the Wings during the regular season and has six goals in these playoffs. "This doesn't happen often, but I'll try to make the best of this situation and try to help the team win a Cup."
Hossa tried to do that in Pittsburgh when he was acquired from the Atlanta Thrashers
on Deadline Day in 2008. After earning 10 points in 12 regular-season games, Hossa went 12-14-26 in 20 postseason contests for the Pens, who forced a Game 6 in the Final with a dramatic triple-overtime marathon at "The Joe" in Game 5 on a goal by Petr Sykora
. But the Wings pulled through in Pittsburgh two nights later to claim hockey's Holy Grail.
"That was tough," Hossa said of watching the Wings skating around with the Cup. "We came here for Game 5 and we won in overtime. Coming home, it was a close game and we lost. Obviously, those guys are going to be hungry. They have some experience right now from last year."
A few months ago, though, this matchup would have seemed awfully far-fetched. Pittsburgh struggled so mightily that it fired coach Michel Therrien
. But under coach Dan Bylsma
and with the help of acquisitions such as Bill Guerin
and Chris Kunitz
, the Pens have found their way. Hossa has noticed.
"Since the trading deadline, they've made some changes and they've played really well," Hossa said. "They've got a really good team. Everybody's playing well for them."
The questions about facing the Pens will keep coming for Hossa in the coming days. Detroit coach Mike Babcock was asked if that will be a distraction for Hossa, who has been held scoreless in 13 of the Wings' 16 postseason games.
"It's a unique situation right now. This doesn't happen often, but I'll try to make the best of this situation and try to help the team win a Cup."
-- Marian Hossa
"I hope not," Babcock said. "If he's mentally tough, there will be no distraction. I don't know why he'd let it be a distraction. It's kind of like (Nik) Kronwall…he hits (Martin) Havlat, and every time he touches the puck, they boo him. To me, that just energizes you."
"I have to make it not be a distraction," Hossa said. "I just have to make it help me and use it as an advantage."
In the end, Pittsburgh's loss has been Detroit's gain -- although the Pens can hardly be blamed for Hossa's decision. Nonetheless, the Wings are glad to have Hossa on their side.
"He made a decision to come to our team," Babcock said. "I think he's very happy with the decision he made. I know we're happy to have him. All the power to him."
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