DETROIT – Marian Hossa finally has his chance to say I told you so to the boo-birds at Mellon Arena.
The spotlight was on the big right-winger from the moment the Stanley Cup match-up was finalized – Pittsburgh, the team he left after last year’s final, against Detroit, the team that beat the Penguins to claim the Cup.
And now Hossa and the Red Wings, who lead the best-of-seven series 3-2, have a chance to win it again in Game 6 on Tuesday night on Pittsburgh’s home ice.
And Hossa’s new teammates clearly would love to see him raise the Cup.
“He’s a great player and he wants to win as much as anyone,” Wings veteran Kirk Maltby said of his teammate on Monday. “Whether it’s one Cup or if you’re going for your fifth, you’re going to play hard.
“That’s what he’s done for us up to now.”
The Penguins will be desperate, but the Red Wings look poised to finish off the series after routing Pittsburgh 5-0 at Joe Louis Arena in Game 5 on Saturday night.
And star forward Pavel Datsyuk, who returned after missing seven games with a foot injury on Saturday, was flying around the ice in practice on Monday and may be ready to play an even larger role than the 17 minutes he skated on his return, when he had two assists and was plus-2 for the game.
Hossa has struggled in the final. The six-foot-one, 210-pound winger is without a goal and has just three assists in the series thus far, although he has worked hard and had 19 shots on goal in the five games.
Last season, the Penguins picked up Hossa at the trade deadline and he was a force for them in the post-season, with 12 goals and 14 assists in 20 playoff games.
But after losing to Detroit in six games in the final, Hossa turned down a reported five-year contract extension worth US$35 million to sign a one-year,$7.45 million deal with Detroit.
Hossa said this week he felt he had a better chance to win a championship with Detroit, but he wanted to play on a team full of proven winners, some with four Stanley Cup wins since 1997, and learn from them.
“I made a decision and I hope it’s the right one,” the 30-year-old said repeatedly.
To bolt to the team that beat the Penguins was considered treason by Pittsburgh fans, who have booed Hossa each time he has touched the puck in the final.
Maltby joked that if Detroit wins “I’m not going to stand near him.”
Coach Mike Babcock feels for Hossa and the pressure he has carried into the final.
“I don’t know if he’s second-guessing,” said Babcock. “He’s a man. He made a decision.
“I think he’s really pleased with his decision. In some ways, it’s probably as difficult a situation as it could have been for him. There are a lot of other teams we could be playing and it would have been easier and we wouldn’t be talking about this stuff.”
Soon it will be the Red Wings who have to make a decision on Hossa.
He can become an unrestricted free agent again on July 1. The team is reported to have had talks with Hossa’s agent Rich Winter about a long-term contract extension, but may reconsider the risk of tying up big money for several years after a so-so playoff performance.
Hossa led the team with 40 goals this season, but he has been held to six goals and nine assists in 21 post-season games thus far. His goals have come in three games – two goals in each – all on the road, where he has 10 points in nine games.
His best performance this spring was in the final three games of the Western Conference final against Chicago, after Datsyuk was injured,
“He’s skating really well, he protects the puck well so that it’s really hard to take the puck off him,” said linemate Valtteri Filppula. “Plus he plays really well defensively now, so even though he might not be scoring, he’s doing everything else.”
The Wings are doing all they can to keep their emotions in check as they try clinch the club’s 12th Stanley Cup and fifth since 1997.
“We’ve been a pretty good road team all year,” said Maltby, who is shooting for his fifth career Cup. “There’s only so many games left and you don’t want to keep waiting until the next one.
“You want to go in and have a good, solid road game. They’re going to come out with their best effort and it’s a matter of how we answer the bell.”
Apparently banged-up winger Dan Cleary did not practise, but Babcock said he will play. Justin Abdelkader, who was scratched the last two games, missed the skate because he is sick.