This was exactly why the Pittsburgh Penguins
acquired Marian Hossa
at the trade deadline.
The star forward scored twice on Sunday – including the game-winner at 7:10 of overtime – as the Pens eliminated the New York Rangers
with a 3-2 victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal at Mellon Arena.
The victory means the NHL will have its first all-Pennsylvania Eastern Conference final. The Penguins – who had 102 points during the regular season – will face the Philadelphia Flyers
in the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As far as Hossa is concerned, Sunday’s performance negated the idea that the extremely-talented forward couldn’t contribute in the postseason. Hossa – who was acquired from the Atlanta Thrashers
on Feb. 26 and is an unrestricted free agent this summer – had just 13 goals in 55 playoff games entering this season.
''I had some bad playoffs and I had some good playoffs, I can't control what other people say about my playoff performance,'' Hossa said. ''I always try and I'm on a great team right now, and I can just enjoy the ride.''
The ride was a bit bumpy on Sunday. The Penguins entered the third period with what appeared to be a comfortable 2-0 lead, but the Rangers scored twice in a span of 1:22 early in the third to tie the game. Playing in his first NHL game, Lauri Korpikoski
cut the deficit in half at 2:03 before Nigel Dawes
tied things up on a backhand shot to quiet what was a raucous capacity crowd.
''It wasn't the best feeling after being ahead 2-0, to give up two goals and go to overtime, but it was important to get it together mentally,'' Pens forward Evgeni Malkin
said through an interpreter. ''We went to the locker room (before the overtime) and everybody had a great feeling.''
Hossa broke a scoreless tie 8:45 into the second period via the power play for his fourth goal of the playoffs. After Michal Rozsival
was whistled for tripping, Hossa completed a brilliant passing play with Ryan Malone
and Sidney Crosby
as he ripped a shot from point-blank range past Henrik Lundqvist
to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead.
It was the only time the Penguins capitalized with the man advantage despite being awarded seven power plays.
''We got ourselves into trouble again with penalties and there were some momentum swings because of that,'' Rangers coach Tom Renney said. ''We were unable to manage that. It's disappointing.''
Malkin put the Pens up by a pair with his sixth goal of the postseason at 12:40 of the second. With the teams at even strength, Malkin fought off New York defenseman Paul Mara
for control of the puck in front of the net and fired a backhand shot over Lundqvist to make it 2-0.
Lundqvist made 25 saves through the first two periods as the Penguins dominated the tempo for the first 40 minutes. As they entered the third, the Rangers were being outshot 27-11.
"They were dominant in the second period, and certainly anything we might have been able to create from the first to build off of was quickly stifled by us being in the penalty box and Pittsburgh just dominating the puck," Renney said.
The Rangers fought back to tie the game and controlled the tempo for much of the third, but they hindered their chances drastically when Chris Drury
was handed a four-minute high sticking penalty in the final 90 seconds of regulation. Pittsburgh was unable to capitalize with the extended man advantage but sent New York to the golf course when Hossa collected a loose puck in the slot and ripped it past Lundqvist for the series clincher.
''For a guy that's been criticized and known for not scoring big goals in the playoffs when it's clutch time, obviously he scored an unbelievably big goal,'' said Pens forward Pascal Dupuis
, who arrived with Hossa from Atlanta in the same deal.
A goal that ends a disappointing season for the Rangers after they shelled out more than $86 million to sign Drury and Scott Gomez
as free agents last July. New York, which finished fifth in the East with 97 points, could lose Jaromir Jagr
, Sean Avery
and Brendan Shanahan
this summer. All three players are unrestricted free agents come July 1.
"You come in September with one thing in your mind and you don't get it, it's disappointing," Drury said. "I am sure our fans are disappointed, as are we."
As for Jagr, it seems as if the Rangers’ captain isn’t about to hang up the blades. Where he’ll play, however, remains to be seen. Jagr turned 36 in February.
"I don't think I am going to retire from hockey. I know I am going to play somewhere," Jagr said. "I still feel like I have many years left."
With two rounds under their belt, the Penguins – who are 8-1 this postseason – now must face arguably their biggest rival in a best-of-seven series that will determine the Eastern Conference champion. Pittsburgh will have home-ice advantage in the semifinal matchup. The Flyers won five of eight from the Penguins during the regular season.
''You want a rivalry, there's one right there,'' Crosby said. ''It doesn't get any easier.''
Material from wire services and team websites was used in this report.