Jim McFarland folds Detroit Red Wings uniforms after Stanley Cup logo patches were applied in Wyandotte, Mich. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Paul Sancya)
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.
Hossa had a team-high 40 goals during the regular season and has scored at least 29 goals in nine straight seasons with Detroit, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Ottawa.
He has scored in just three games this post-season - coincidentally all in Game 4s, netting two goals in each of the three he's played - but the six-foot-one, 210-pound forward often has been dominant with and without the puck.
Playing the team he left behind is interesting, but it is relatively irrelevant to Hossa because he would desperately want to hoist the Cup regardless of whom he was facing.
"Being in the finals, that's motivation," he said. "Last year I lost it, so this is another chance.
"It's going to be hard, but it's a good chance."
AP Sports Writer Alan Robinson in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.