05/26/2010 3:29 PM
- From chicagoblackhawks.com: (link)
Pop in a Stanley Cup DVD from any of the last four seasons and you'll find Marian Hossa and Chris Pronger among the highlighted players. They are All-Stars, franchise building blocks, and dominant players at their respective positions.
The only thing they haven't done a whole lot of is lifting the Stanley Cup in triumph. Pronger is 1-for-2 after losing with Edmonton in 2006 and winning with Anaheim in 2007. Hossa was denied in both his attempts at a title, with Pittsburgh in 2008 and Detroit in 2009.
One of them is going to come out on the short end of the stick once again. Will Pronger earn a ring for his other hand in leading the Flyers? Or will Hossa have to live though another short summer in anguish, this time as a Blackhawk?
When Hossa takes his first shift against the Flyers Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS), he will become only the third athlete in the four major professional sports to appear in a Final three consecutive seasons with three different teams.
Don Baylor reached the World Series with Boston in 1986, Minnesota in 1987 and Oakland in 1988. He won a ring in his second trip with the Twins. Like Hossa, Eric Hinske also has an active streak. His World Series appearances include Boston in 2007, Tampa Bay in 2008, and the New York Yankees in 2009, and Hinske was on the winning team in his first and third times in the Fall Classic.
If the third time is indeed the charm, as the old saying goes, Hossa is due to win his first Cup title with the Blackhawks.
"It's a great feeling coming to the Final again, definitely," Hossa said after Chicago swept the San Jose Sharks out of the Western Conference Finals. "But this time I want to finish better, and that's my goal.
"It's a huge accomplishment, but we don't want to stop here. We want to take the next step."
Hossa's past Final disappointments are well documented. In 2008, the Penguins acquired him at the trade deadline from Atlanta, and Hossa did all he could to fulfill expectations. In the Cup Final against Detroit, he led Pittsburgh with 7 points, but the Red Wings prevailed in six games.
Less than two months later, Hossa joined Detroit, the team that just denied him a ring, by signing a one-year free agent contract. Hossa said he felt the Red Wings afforded him the best opportunity to win a championship, and nobody really questioned his judgment. It made a great story when the Penguins and Red Wings met in a Cup rematch; the veteran Hossa seeking his first championship against the players he called him teammates one season prior. Hossa didn't have the greatest of finals in 2009 -- 3 assists -- and Pittsburgh won in seven games, rallying from a 3-games-to-2 series deficit.
Once again a free agent, Hossa changed course and decided to take his Cup aspirations to Chicago, this time in the form of a 12-year-contract signed on July 1, 2009.
In Hossa's way, literally and figuratively, will be Pronger. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette has been generous with Pronger's ice time, giving him a League-leading 28:48 in the 2010 playoffs, and it wouldn't be surprising if the 35-year-old routinely topped 30 minutes in each Cup Final game.
"I've always played a lot of minutes, so it's not like it's anything new," Pronger said.
When you have a player as good as Pronger -- a Norris and Hart Trophy winner -- and you're four wins away from the title, you turn Pronger loose for as much as he can handle. In 2006, Oilers coach Craig MacTavish gave Pronger 30:57 of ice time per game, the most in the playoffs except for the 31:54 in six games by Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom. But Pronger played 24 contests in helping Edmonton take Carolina to the limit -- seven games in the Cup Final. Pronger had 1 goal and 3 assists against the Hurricanes.
The following month Pronger was traded to Anaheim, as the Ducks correctly identified the 6-6, 220 pound defensemen as a missing link to the organizations second Cup appearance and first title. The deal certainly was worth it as Anaheim knocked off Ottawa in five games, with Pronger contributing an assist in four appearances. That spring he averaged 30:11 of ice time -- fourth in the League -- in 19 games.
If getting to the Final only twice in a 16-year career has taught Pronger anything, it's to seize the moment because these opportunities are fleeting.
"You know, just getting in, it gives you that opportunity, and you've got to seize the moment and seize the opportunity. And we've done that thus far," he said.
"We've still got a big hurdle to go, but right from the first game in New Jersey, all the way through, we've always believed in the system and our players and what we're doing on the ice. It's just a matter of us getting into that rhythm and buying into the system.
"Guys blocking shots and doing all the little things. Sucking it up, and taking a punch to draw a penalty or whatever. The little things that make up a lot of the little battles during the course of the game to win the war. We've done a very good job thus far of that."
Philadelphia and Chicago, and Hossa and Pronger, have done very good jobs to get to this point. But one player is going to fall short of a ring no matter how much he accomplishes in the next four-plus games, while another will wait for his day in the sun with the Cup come its summer tour.