State final: Hossa improves playoff image with 2-goal game
The Penguins celebrate after Marian Hossa's overtime goal against the Rangers yesterday at Mellon Arena.
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Marian Hossa knows what has been said about his play in high-stakes games, about the rap he has gotten for failing to produce when it matters most.
He doesn't necessarily agree, even though he admits to having a checkered history in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but he doesn't dwell on the criticism, either.
"I can't control what other people say about my playoff performance," he said.
Actually, he can.
And if Hossa offers up many efforts like he had in the Penguins' 3-2 overtime victory against the New York Rangers in Game 5 of their second-round playoff series yesterday at Mellon Arena, the only point of contention will be just how gaudy the adjectives used to describe his work should be.
"Hossa," Penguins left winger Jarkko Ruutu said, "was great today."
Great? That's all? OK, maybe Ruutu isn't easily impressed. Or perhaps he wanted to save something in case, as his teammates suspect, Hossa is able to elevate his game even more in coming weeks.
"I think you're going to see bigger and better things from him," left winger Ryan Malone said.
Could be, but Hossa's contribution yesterday was large.
His goal at 7:10 of overtime, Hossa's second of the game, put the Penguins into the Eastern Conference final, where they will face Philadelphia, for the first time since 2001.
"Getting the series-winner, geez, it's hard to write a better script than that for him," general manager Ray Shero said.
The storyline can be traced back to Feb. 26 when, minutes before the NHL trade deadline, Shero sent Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, prospect Angelo Esposito and a first-round draft choice to Atlanta for Hossa and winger Pascal Dupuis.
Both players have given returns on Shero's investment, but the biggest payoff from Hossa didn't come until Game 5, when he had the kind of impact only a world-class talent can.
He scored the goal that ended New York's season after a Dupuis feed glanced off the skate of New York defenseman Daniel Girardi and skidded toward the left hash. Hossa pounced on the puck there and buried it behind Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who had stopped 37 of the Penguins' previous 39 shots.
"I got a bounce and the puck just came out to me," Hossa said. "I shot it in the net. It was a lucky one."
His goal ended the Penguins' first overtime playoff game since May 10, 2001, when Darius Kasparaitis scored at 13:01 for a 3-2 victory in Game 7 of a second-round series against Buffalo. Coincidentally, that victory made their most recent trip to the Eastern final possible.
Given the circumstances, Hossa's goal might have been his biggest in the NHL. It wasn't the most impressive, though. That likely came earlier in the afternoon.
Not because of how he finished a scoring sequence, but because of how he started it.
The Penguins were on a power play in the second period when the Rangers nearly cleared the puck to center ice, only to have Hossa lunge to keep it in the New York zone. Which is where the Penguins kept it until Hossa converted a feed from Malone at 8:45 to give them a 1-0 lead.
"He worked his tail off to make sure it didn't get out," Shero said.
Lundqvist did the same the next few minutes to prevent the Penguins from putting the game out of reach -- "We had a flurry going there," Penguins center Jordan Staal said. "[Lundqvist] played a great game" -- although he couldn't prevent Evgeni Malkin from making it 2-0 with a backhander from the inner edge of the left circle at 12:40.
"It was a pretty lucky goal for me," Malkin said through interpreter George Birman. "I tried to go where the defense went. I lost that puck, and the puck ended up on my stick, so I just shot it."
Malkin's goal could have been a lethal blow to New York, but the Rangers were revived when Lauri Korpikoski beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at 2:03 of the third -- New York's first goal in 111 minutes, 59 seconds at Mellon Arena -- and Nigel Dawes scored on a backhander 82 seconds later.
The Penguins didn't panic -- "It was the exact opposite," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "We weathered [New York's surge] pretty well, and just kept doing what we were doing" -- and, despite failing to capitalize on a four-minute power play that spilled into overtime, eventually got the Hossa goal that ended the series.
And, in the process, went a long way toward polishing his playoff reputation.
First Published May 5, 2008 12:00 am