Chicago Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa is one of the most clutch players in the NHL, and he has been a key component in his team's pursuit of a second Stanley Cup championship in four years during the 2013 playoffs.
The Blackhawks acquired him as a marquee free agent prior to the 2009-10 season after they had been defeated in five games by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2009 Western Conference finals. The young Blackhawks needed a proven postseason performer and made the right decision in signing the seven-time 30-goal scorer.
Hossa played an important role as a top-six forward on the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup-winning squad three years ago, tallying 15 points in 22 playoff games.
Fast-forward to 2013 and Hossa is once again leading the charge during what could be another championship season for the Windy City.
He is tied for the team lead in scoring (14 points) with Patrick Sharp, but it's not the amount of offensive production he provides the Blackhawks that's important. It's when he scores goals.
Hossa's third-period goal in Thursday's Game 4 of the Western Conference finals helped the Blackhawks take a 3-1 series lead and move to within one victory of another Cup-final appearance. He took a pass from fellow Slovakian Michal Handzus and blasted the puck past Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick with a perfect slap shot.
The goal gave the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead with just under 19 minutes left in regulation—one they would protect to become the first team in the playoffs to defeat Los Angeles on home ice.
Hossa now has two game-winning goals in the conference finals. The first one was scored in Game 1 when the Blackhawks won a hard-fought battle 2-1 on home ice.
The 34-year-old forward has scored seven goals in this year's playoffs, and a league-leading six of them have given his team the lead. (The other was a game-tying goal.)
When the Blackhawks desperately need a goal, Hossa gets a lot of ice time and is relied upon to deliver for his team in high-pressure situations. Per NHL public relations:
During his 14-year career, Hossa has tallied 111 points in 146 career playoff games. Here's how he ranks among active players in several postseason statistical categories:
When Hossa finds the back of the net, his teams rarely lose in the playoffs, evidenced by the fact that 39 of his 43 playoff goals were scored in wins.
He raises his game at this time of the season, and the energy and passion he displays on every shift inspire his teammates to reach that same level. Hossa has played in three Stanley Cup finals in his career and lost two of them. But despite earning his first championship ring in 2010, he still has an admirable amount of motivation to score goals and make an impact offensively in the playoffs. This is a mindset that all great players have.
In this postseason, the Blackhawks are 6-0 when Hossa scores a goal and 9-1 when he tallies one or more points. As the chart below shows, Hossa also shines for his team in series-clinching situations and when Chicago is facing elimination.
Hossa's scoring has been extra valuable to the Blackhawks' success this postseason because several of the team's other top-six forwards have been inconsistent offensively or have made small contributions to the score sheet.
Captain and No. 1 center Jonathan Toews and superstar winger Patrick Kane have combined for just four goals in 16 playoff games. They have accounted for only one of the team's 10 goals against the Kings in the conference finals.
Hossa is second on the team in scoring with three points in the four games against the Kings. He and Bryan Bickell are the only Blackhawks players with goals in multiple games during the conference finals.
The Blackhawks will need Hossa's scoring production in a possible Stanley Cup final matchup against the Boston Bruins, who lead the Eastern Conference finals, 3-0, and are arguably the best defensive team in the league. If the Penguins make a historic comeback to win the East, the Blackhawks will need Hossa to be consistent offensively in what would likely be a high-scoring Cup final.
Chicago has proved that it can win against quality playoff opponents without great performances from elite forwards such as Patrick Sharp, Toews and Kane, but in four of the team's five postseason losses, Hossa failed to get on the score sheet.
Is Hossa the most important Blackhawks forward?
His scoring translates to winning, and one of the few constants from an individual standpoint among Blackhawks forwards in the playoffs has been Hossa's offense, especially when the team has had no room for error.
The Blackhawks have won six of their last seven games, and it's no coincidence that Hossa had at least one point in all six of those victories.
Hossa is the engine that drives this team's offense, and he will need to perform at a high level for the Original Six club to become the first two-time champion since the 2004-05 lockout.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston.