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Red Wings need Hossa's gamble to pay off in Ducks series

So this is it. This is where we see just how Marian Hossa's $72 million gamble turns out. The Red Wings winger famously spurned that many millions (and long-term security with the Edmonton Oilers) for a one-and-out shot at winning the Stanley Cup with Detroit. When have you seen a free agent do that?

"The money was incredible, and flattering, of course it was," Hossa told me as he sat in the Red Wings' locker room two weeks before the season began. "But, really, my decision wasn't that hard. When I had the opportunity to come here" -- for a one-season salary of $7.45 million -- "there was no question about it."

Maybe Detroit finds a way to sign Hossa long-term before July 1 and free agency dawns. He's been marvelous this season, leading the team with 40 goals, fitting into the locker room like a natural-born Wing. General manager Ken Holland doesn't let go of valuable players once they're in his grasp. But these are different times in Detroit -- hard, hard times in which every penny needs careful watching. And a lot of money has already been spent: $72 million recently committed to Henrik Zetterberg; $44 million to Johan Franzen. The NHL salary cap is sure to shrink, maybe for several years ahead, and there's no way that Hossa gets a per annum deal as rich as the ones he had a chance to bring home last summer.

So maybe this really is Hossa's single spring fling in Detroit, his one chance at the Cup while wearing the winged wheel. Maybe this is the best shot that Marian Hossa, 30 years old now, will get in his career. Some guys don't even come this close. Just ask Olli Jokinen.

The conference semifinals may not seem so close to the silverware as all that -- not even halfway, after all -- but then you look at the West and you have to think that as fresh as the Blackhawks have played, and as good as the buzzing Canucks can sometimes be, well, the team that wins this Ducks-Red Wings series is bound for the Stanley Cup Final.

It was Hossa's unfortunate pass, sent across the ice near the top of the Ducks' offensive zone that led to Todd Marchant's game-winning triple overtime goal in Game 2 -- the goal that announced, as if we didn't already know it, that this series is going to go on for a while. It was a game in which Hossa couldn't bury a chance, couldn't make one of his nine shots on goal hit the back of the net. That fateful pass into Marchant's skates made Hossa minus-1 in the game, and minus-2 in the series.

When Hossa signed his contract last summer, some haters out there crowed that he was carpet-bagging, just along for the ride to win a Cup with an already loaded team. (As if risking many generations worth of riches were somehow a selfish move.) But this much is now clear: Hossa can't be a passenger in this series and expect the Red Wings to get through it.

Maybe the Wings didn't strictly "need" him when this season began, but they need him now. They need him to be the player who ran off that marvelous 26-points-in-20-games postseason run with the Penguins last spring, not the player who was pointless through the first two games against Anaheim.

"They have to get better," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said to reporters, referring to Hossa and the slumping Pavel Datsyuk.

Hossa simply needs to finish his chances on the ice and what he started last July when he had his agent call Holland's cell phone to say that Hossa wanted in at whatever price.

Will Hossa's gamble pay off? It's up to him.

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