You would think Marian Hossa would appreciate the nine-day layoff between playoff series more than anyone.
At 36, Hossa has endured a particularly challenging run of hockey over the past three seasons: 245 NHL games, including the playoffs — in the past 28 months. If you factor in the condensed 2013 NHL post-lockout schedule and his nagging back issues that season, the short summer after winning the Cup in 2013 (just 79 days from Game 6 in Boston to the start of training camp) and the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, that’s a lot of hockey.
Any break would seem to be a good one for Hossa. But the veteran Blackhawks forward is just as itchy as everyone else to get the Western Conference final against the Anaheim Ducks started. Game 1 is Sunday at 2 p.m. at Honda Center — 10 days after the Hawks clinched their second-round series against the Minnesota Wild.
“Personally, I like fewer days off — a couple of days off,” Hossa said Thursday after another spirited practice at Johnny’s IceHouse West. “But a long period of time — we’ll see. I’m sure nobody likes to wait this long.”
But whether he likes it or not, the nine-day layoff might eventually be boon to Hossa’s game. Last year at this point of the playoffs, Hossa came into the playoffs on a roll — two goals, 10 points and a plus-7 in his previous nine games — and quickly hit the wall. And not-so-coincidentally, so did the Hawks.
After getting two assists in the Hawks’ 3-1 victory over the Kings in Game 1 of the conference final, Hossa was quiet, if not silent, from there — one assist and a minus-5 in the final six games of the series. Even Hossa admitted the wear-and-tear affected him.
“Yeah. It was definitely a long season — lots of games and especially long flights. It catches up to you,” Hossa said. “I didn’t have that much jump in the last game or two against L.A. as I did in the beginning.”
Hossa said he feels good heading into this series. After a long layoff, he probably has more gas in the tank.
“He feels good. He looks good. Skating well,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We always think he’s in great shape, so I think he’s fine. I don’t want to compare it [to how he was at this time last year], because I always think he’s fine.”
After six seasons, the Hawks count on Hossa being there for them. He has just one goal in 10 playoff games — an empty-netter in Game 4 against the Wild that turned into the game-winner. But he has seven assists and a 200-foot game that is vital to the cause.
“You like to [score goals], but like Patrick [Sharp] said, we’ve got lots of different guys who can score,” Hossa said. “When everybody’s scoring, it’s tougher to defend than just one line scoring. If you’re asking me if I would like to score more, yes I would. but is it the most important thing for me? No. It’s wins.”
Hossa will be playing in his sixth conference final in the past eight seasons, including five with the Blackhawks. He has played in 126 playoff games in the past eight seasons — more than any player in the NHL in that span (the Kings’ Mike Richards is next with 118). In fact, his 181 career playoff games are the most of any player since 1999 (Brian Rafalski of the Devils/Red Wings is next with 165).
He acts like he’s been here before, because he has. Hossa, who has scored 486 career goals in the regular season, has scored 46 goals and 136 points and is a plus-24 in the playoffs. But of course, it’s the two Stanley Cup championships he covets most. It took him 11 years to get the first one in 2010 with the Hawks.
Hossa is a star among stars on the Hawks, but his value can’t be overstated. The Hawks are 3-0 in the playoffs without Brent Seabrook, 1-0 without Duncan Keith. But they’re 1-4 without Hossa. In 2012, they were tied 1-1 with the Coyotes when Hossa was ambushed by Raffi Torres and missed the rest of the first-round series. The Hawks lost in six games. In the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Bruins, Hossa missed Game 3 with a bad back. The Hawks lost 2-0. When he returned, the Hawks won the final three games and their second Cup in four seasons.
And when Hossa’s impact dropped noticeably in the conference final against the Kings in last year’s conference final, the Hawks struggled.
“You know what — it’s another year,” Hossa said when asked if last year’s loss to the Kings is motivation for this season. “So we’ve got a little bit different team. We definitely would like to end up differently this year. We know what happened last year But this is another year. You don’t look behind. You always look forward.”