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Hossa proves a worthy investment for Hawks

by John Dellapina /
CHICAGO –- If you can keep your head while all those about you are losing theirs -- well, you probably weren't playing for either the Blackhawks or the Flyers in the madness that was Game 1 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.

Unless, that is, your name is Marian Hossa.

Which only makes perfect sense, given that Hossa, as you might have heard, is playing in his third consecutive Stanley Cup Final.

Now, that was as much punch line as compliment going into the series. Because, as you probably also heard, Hossa was on the losing side in both the 2008 and 2009 Finals -- that after being acquired by both the ‘08 Pittsburgh Penguins (in a trade-deadline deal) and the Detroit Red Wings (as a free-agent signing) in hopes that he would be the completing piece of championship puzzles.

And while we're on the topic of commentary that could be taken both ways, there was all that gushing about Hossa's having done all the little things through three rounds of these playoffs. As if doing little things is even close to enough for a guy who last summer signed a whopping, 12-year contract with the Blackhawks to be the prolific scorer he has been throughout his career –- a man who scored more goals than anybody other than Jarome Iginla in the decade that began on Jan. 1, 2000, and ended on Dec. 31, 2009.

But as of the drop of the puck Saturday night in the ear-splitting din that was the post-anthem United Center, the point in the NHL season finally had arrived when nothing other than winning mattered. And from that drop of the puck, while marquee players in both colors all around him were coughing up pucks like dry heaves of panic and fans and media were wondering whether to be thrilled with this unexpected return to mid-‘80s hockey or horrified by the game's best getting caught up in the moment, Hossa appeared as comfortable and placid as if he were playing an exhibition game in September.

And simultaneously as driven as a man should be when the pursuit of his personal holy grail has twice ended tantalizingly short.

"He's an amazing player," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said upon taking the post-game podium, order having been restored to the "Madhouse on Madison" after a 6-5 Blackhawks victory. "I know his production has undergone a lot of questioning as we've gone along in these playoffs. But he's so effective in so many ways. And we're so comfortable using him against anybody."

"Defensively, he's so good in his role and responsibilities. He finds ways with the puck to create offense. That line was very effective, very dangerous tonight. And he led the way."

Hossa led the way by being himself. Which is to say, he did everything an NHL forward is supposed to do and he did it well -- with the exception of putting a puck in the net himself.

Skating on the right side of a trio centered by Patrick Sharp, with Troy Brouwer on the left, Hossa showed his two younger linemates -- each making their debuts in a Stanley Cup Final -- just how it's done when the stakes get so high that merely breathing is a chore.

On the shift after Philadelphia's Ville Leino was credited with a goal 6:38 into the series that pinballed home off the head of Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and sucked the air out of the overflow crowd of 22,312, Hossa applied CPR.

First, he won a puck in the corner and fed across for an all-alone Brian Campbell charging down from the left point. Campbell fanned on his shot -- so Hossa retrieved the puck and tried again, this time ladling a soft backhand pass into Brouwer's wheelhouse for the one-time rip that beat Michael Leighton and got the Hawks on the board and into the series.

Hossa spent the next 18 minutes calmly getting pucks out of the Chicago zone, helping minimize the damage of four Blackhawk  penalties with his shorthanded work and keeping attacks alive by pickpocketing unsuspecting Flyers or frustrating them by protecting the puck with his body as few in the game can. All that while ridiculous things were happening all over the ice to turn the rest of the first period and much of the second into a sublime goal-fest.

"You know, he's so strong and he just competes on every shift," said Chicago center John Madden, one of the few players in this series with Final experience comparable to Hossa's. "He demands the puck and when he's got it, he's hard to get off it. He's a horse out there. He's fun to watch."
"I know his production has undergone a lot of questioning as we've gone along in these playoffs. But he's so effective in so many ways. And we're so comfortable using him against anybody." -- Joel Quenneville on Marian Hossa

Hossa then hit the scoresheet again late in the second period. Working behind the net, he made another perfect backhand pass to an open Brouwer, who buried his second goal of the night. It was Hossa's 11th assist of the playoffs to go with a pair of goals -- hardly an eye-popping total for a player with his resume -- but then maybe his team-leading plus-10 better reflects his contribution to the Blackhawks' march this spring.

"He was our best forward out there tonight if you ask me," Sharp said. "Every time he touched the puck, he's making something happen. 'Brouw' had two great shots, but I'll tell you first-hand they were great passes by Hoss. Anyone that's got criticism for Marian for not scoring, just needs to watch the tape from Game 1 to see how valuable he is to our team."

Hossa reacted to such praise just the way a player who has been there and done that should.

"Our line has two great shooters and somebody has to get the puck to them," he joked. "They were in great position. They just kept getting open and I just tried to find them."

But when asked whether playing June hockey the previous two seasons enabled him to function better on this night, Hossa couldn't disagree.

"Probably there is a little truth to that," he said. "You've been in these kind of games and you went through it. So you are able to keep you composure, keep your head and don't try to run around and try to be somebody else. I tried to play the same way, and I'm glad we won."

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