DETROIT — Marian Hossa’s combination of size, speed and skill helped the banged-up Detroit Red Wings finish off Chicago to set up a Stanley Cup final rematch with the team he spurned.
“I thought he was the best player on the ice last night,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said Thursday, a day after Detroit’s series-clinching win against the Blackhawks. “I also thought he was also the best player on the ice in the previous game at Chicago.
“We were missing Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom in both games, so it was great to have him step up like he did.”
If Hossa can help Detroit hoist the Cup, his eyebrow-raising decision last summer will be validated.
The marquee free agent signed with Detroit at a relative discount for about US$7.5 million, declining an offer estimated to be worth $49 million to remain with the runner-up Pittsburgh Penguins and reportedly many more millions to play in Edmonton.
“It should be interesting,” Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. “We all know the reason why he left us to go there.
“It will be cool to face him, but we can’t overthink it.”
If Pittsburgh beats Hossa and the defending champions, he will have lost a championship, a lot of money and long-term stability.
“I have to make this not too big a distraction,” he said Wednesday night following Detroit’s 2-1 overtime victory. “I just have to use it as an advantage.”
Hossa is hailed for his dazzling talents in Detroit, and is vilified in Pittsburgh for leaving.
The cheers Hossa hears in Game 1 on Saturday and Game 2 on Sunday likely won’t be as loud as the jeers that will cascade on him when the series shifts venues.
When Hossa played Feb. 8 at Pittsburgh, he was booed early and often.
A former teammate isn’t sure that provides a home-ice advantage for the Penguins.
“I know myself as a player, when players get booed in other buildings, it just motivates you and makes you want to want to do better,” Brooks Orpik said. “If our fans want to boo him, I don’t know how much good it’s going to do us. He’s a great player, it was weird what happened, but everyone respects him as a guy and as a player. It was a tough decision for him, but we’ve got a chance to beat him here.”
Win or lose, the Red Wings would like to keep Hossa around.
Holland, Hossa and his agent did some negotiating during the season, but both sides chose to put talks on hold until after the season.
“I like it here a lot, but we both decided to stop talking to focus on the playoffs,” Hossa said earlier this post-season. “We’ll see what happens.”
Anaheim Ducks star Teemu Selanne recalled saying, “the rich got richer,” when he and other NHL players and fans were stunned by the news of Hossa signing a one-year deal with the Wings last summer.
Selanne, though, understood why Hossa made the rare decision to leave money on the table.
“Winning the Cup is priceless,” Selanne said during the second round of the playoffs.