Shero's deal for Hossa proving to be a real winner

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When the puck slid into Marian Hossa's kitchen seven minutes into overtime yesterday, the physical and emotional enormity of what had happened in these five memorable games between the Penguins and New York Rangers flashed into crystal.

Bones cracked in this series, blood fell on the pond, spleens lacerated, and hearts broke and exalted, relative to vantage point.

Playoff hockey churns drama by the gallon, not by the script.

No script, no matter how demonically non-rhythmic, would produce the following stage direction at this point, but here it is.

Cue the Flyers.

Really, if these past 10 days with the Rangers left you with smoldering neurosystems, what soul-draining menace awaits against Philadelphia in two weeks and 300 miles of unpitying turnpike?

Don't bother looking for that EZPass Lane.

"The Flyers are playing very strong," said Jarkko Ruutu, asked to light the stove in the minutes after Hossa banged a pinballing puck to the other side of Henrik Lundqvist and dismiss the Rangers at happy hour yesterday. "They barely got into the playoffs, and then they beat the hottest team in hockey [the Washington Capitals] in the first round, and now they've dominated the No. 1 seed in the East [your Montreal Canadiens], winning, 4-1. We're getting a real good team here."

Ruutu surely wasn't suggesting the Flyers look like a team to be avoided.

I mean let's not start that nonsense again.

As it happens, there's no admission to the Stanley Cup final that doesn't include a long, violent encounter with Broad Street's best. Well, I suppose there could be a short, violent encounter, but I wouldn't count on it.

When Philadelphia pulls its video together in the next day or two, its coaching staff will have to spend a long time looking at Hossa, who is doing things at every expanse and in every corner of the ice that are turning these Penguins from a popular curiosity into suitable guardians of the Stanley Cup.

But then, that was the point, wasn't it?

Hossa and Pascal Dupuis and Hal Gill got here at the trade deadline because Penguins general manager Ray Shero thought these Penguins were close enough to royalty to acquire the kind of carriage the club might or might not be able to afford. But like everyone else in throbbing Mellon Arena yesterday, he'll jump off that bridge when he comes to it.

Hossa scored the biggest goals of this Rangers series before the overtime in Game 5, but he had a certain fondness for this final one.

"I don't think I've ever scored a playoff goal in overtime," Hossa said. "So this was big, yeah. Sid was driving hard to the net, and I don't know what happened but the puck just came to me. It was a lucky one."

Crosby didn't have a much better explanation, probably because Hossa's fifth goal of the playoffs and second of the game was the result of typically manic playoff traffic in the offensive zone.

"It seemed like forever before it actually went in," Sid said.

Probably because this whole Sid & Marian deal has taken forever to establish its choreography. Shero delivered Hossa to Crosby's right hand when The Kid was convalescing, then Hossa immediately got hurt himself.

"You have to remember they didn't play much together late in the season," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said in one of the Arena's darker corridors. "But their chemistry is fully developed now. Sid's being checked really well, and still they're working together."

The news cycle in progress will emphasize Hossa's winner, but prettier and grittier was his first goal yesterday, the one that broke a scoreless tie in the second period, the one that ended 106 minutes and 15 seconds of goalless Penguins hockey.

That was a power-play goal as well, but the advantage started badly when Crosby's stick was broken. Thirty seconds later, with a deflected clearing pass leaking toward the blue line, Hossa lunged headlong to his right, swiping it to Ryan Malone in the right faceoff circle. Malone got it to Crosby on the left wing and headed for the slot, where Sid delivered it in virtually the same motion. Hossa, who got off the deck and headed to the spot Malone had vacated, accepted Malone's pass and buried it behind the sliding Lundqvist for a 1-0 lead and a ton of psychic relief for a young team whose scoring touch mysteriously had vanished.

Hossa's teammates somehow found a way to give a 2-0 third-period lead away to Wolf Pack and the Butler. That would be Lauri Korpikoski, whose previous known goal was for the Hartford Wolf Pack, and Nigel Dawes, who for all his evident hockey skills, has a name better suited to butlery.

"We had a breakdown on the one goal," Therrien offered, but apologized for nothing. "I really believe we deserved to win. Marian Hossa got rewarded; he had an outstanding game. He's dangerous every time he goes on the ice, and it's not only from a goal-scoring standpoint. He's outstanding on both ends of the ice."

So before this goes any further, Shero's gambit worked. That discussion needs no more oxygen.

Dupuis has been an additional offensive catalyst, Gill an outstanding penalty-killer and still the best Jaromir Jagr dissolvent in the NHL. Add Hossa, and you've got most of the reason this team that managed but a single playoff victory a year ago now finds itself in the conference final.

Shero's father, Fred, was the only man ever to coach the Flyers to a Stanley Cup championship. Thirty-three years later, the son stands in their way, and he has equipped himself very well.

Might be an angle, huh?


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