OTTAWA - Two months ago Marian Hossa knew there was a good chance he'd be leaving the Atlanta Thrashers and joining a playoff-bound team.
Except at that point in mid-February he thought he'd end up with either the Montreal Canadiens or Ottawa Senators. The Pittsburgh Penguins? He never once thought that was a possibility heading into the Feb. 26 NHL trade deadline.
"I was talking with my agent and my friends and there were lots of rumours that had me going to Montreal or Ottawa," said Hossa, an unrestricted free agent July 1. "Then in the last few minutes before the trade deadline I started hearing Pittsburgh out of nowhere. It's just great that it happened because I'm happy here. It's a great team."
Penguins GM Ray Shero got in late on deadline day but pulled off the blockbuster, acquiring Hossa and forward Pascal Dupuis in exchange for forwards Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen, former first-round pick Angelo Esposito and a first-round selection in this year's draft.
"I was definitely pleased," said Penguins superstar centre Sidney Crosby. "I'd watched him play a lot and from what I had heard he was a great person and a great fit for our team. The thing I kept hearing was how complete he was. I don't think that's something he gets a lot of recognition for. But you know you're going to get a chance to play with an offensively gifted guy that's really responsible defensively.
"That was a great deadline gift, so to speak, for our team and for me personally to be able to play with. I was very excited for that."
So instead of joining the Senators for a second tour of duty, Hossa has been busy trying to knock them out of the playoffs. Hossa and the Penguins had a 3-0 series lead going into Game 4 on Wednesday night. The irony isn't lost on Hossa, who still has many friends here in the Capital region.
"I thought about it at first but I don't pay attention to that anymore. I'm just focused on the games at hand," said Hossa, who played his first seven NHL seasons in Ottawa.
The Penguins were exactly what Hossa wanted, a team with a serious chance at winning.
"It's just a great opportunity being with a team that can go far, go all the way," he said. "I want to play my best to help this team be successful."
So far so good. Hossa had five points (1-4) in three games before Wednesday night, looking dangerous on a line with Crosby and Dupuis.
"As far as reading off each other, we're still getting there, still learning," said Crosby. "But I think we've really improved as we've gone along here."
Hossa blushed and began laughing when asked if he would ask head coach Michel Therrien to play with a better centre. The obvious icing on the cake of joining the Penguins has been the immediate matchup with Crosby.
"It's awesome," said Hossa. "He's such a good player and not just offensively. He does a great job defensively down low, he's so strong. The more I play with him, that's what I discover, how good he is down low. We all know how good he is with the puck. Now I can tell what he can do in both zones."
Hossa has been a force throughout this series but it wasn't until late in Game 3 that he finally potted his first goal. He'll admit it, it was good to get the monkey off his back.
"I'm happy it finally went in," he said. "A little garbage goal. I was looking for that one. But it's been good since the start, we created a lot of chances but the puck wasn't going in. We were winning games and that's the most important thing."
Because the bottom line, no matter what anybody says, is that Hossa is a rental player that was brought in for one reason - to score goals on a line with Crosby. So the Game 3 goal was not insignificant.
"It was great to see him get the goal, I think it took some pressure off of him," said Shero. "You can see the reaction Crosby had, he was very happy for him. Marian is one of those players, you'd like to see him score goals but if he's not scoring goals, as we've seen he certainly works both ends of the rink, does penalty killing, he's smart with the puck, does a lot of things to help you win games.
"But, we need him to score some goals and that was a good start for him. He's had plenty of chances and hopefully getting the first one will be good for his confidence."