CHICAGO (AP) — In the days leading up to the Stanley Cup finals, teammates just had to ask Marian Hossa: Are you nervous?
After all, he had been there the past two years with Pittsburgh and Detroit — and lost — and during the layoff, he couldn't avoid the rush from his teammates.
"We asked him, 'Are you more nervous about this one now? Third time's gotta be the charm, right Hoss?'" winger Adam Burish said. "He's like, 'I'm not even nervous, guys. It's almost like I don't get nervous now."
The first player to reach the Stanley Cup finals three straight years with three different teams, Hossa has a unique hat trick. This time, he's looking for a different outcome.
The Blackhawks are looking to end their 49-year championship drought and are off to a good start, thanks to Hossa. In the wild 6-5 series-opening win, he had assists on Troy Brouwer's two goals. Then, he added a rebound goal of his own in Monday's 2-1 win that gave Chicago a 2-0 series lead.
"Definitely, I know I go a long way in the past and I know I'm in the same situation," he said. "You know we've got good things going on right now, winning both games at home is really great for our confidence and really great for momentum."
As for his goal?
He called it a "garbage goal" and said, "I know I was looking for some kind of goal like that to get the offense going."
The title quest has been driving him, all the way from Pittsburgh to Detroit and Chicago the past few years. He keeps coming close.
He was right there two years ago with Pittsburgh after being dealt from Atlanta at the deadline, shedding his reputation as a playoff underachiever while helping Sidney Crosby and the Penguins reach the finals.
Hossa scored a team-leading 12 goals during that run, cutting Detroit's lead to one with 87 seconds left in Game 6 and nearly tying it in the closing seconds when he swiped at Crosby's backhander from alongside the right post. The puck went across the crease but not in the net, and the Red Wings prevailed.
Then, they got a discount from Hossa.
He signed a one-year, $7.45 million deal with Detroit even though the Penguins were offering $7 million a season as part of five-year contract, hoping the cut rate would lead to a title payoff.
Instead, the net gain was about the same.
Hossa scored 40 goals for the Red Wings in the regular season but just six in the playoffs while battling a shoulder injury that required surgery after he signed with Chicago — and this time Detroit came up short against Pittsburgh in the finals.
Then, he was on the move again. Only this time, he didn't come at a discount.
One of the league's most prolific scorers the past decade, Hossa signed a 12-year, $62.8 million contract with Chicago last July and essentially replaced points leader Martin Havlat on a young, athletic team that was re-energizing a jilted fan base.
When the players got word, they couldn't help themselves.
"It was like a chain of texts going back and forth — 'Hey, we got Hossa!' 'Did you hear we got Hossa?'" Burish said. "So all the guys were excited. Then, you see him the first day of training camp, and this guy is as good as I remember."
"When I was signing as a free agent, in Chicago, I knew how good a team it is," Hossa said. "Obviously, sometimes you can face some injuries, things like that. But so far it's been great. We had a great run since the beginning of the season, and we are not in the finals by accident, but by hard work."
It hasn't been the smoothest ride for him.
Soon after he signed, the Blackhawks revealed the shoulder injury, which kept him out of the first 22 games.
When he finally got on the ice, Hossa scored two goals against San Jose in his first appearance and wound up with 24 to go with 27 assists in 57.
In the playoffs, goals have been scarce. He entered Monday's game with just two in the postseason, a surprise considering Hossa ranks third with 319 goals over the past 10 seasons, but he was still making a big impact.
In a sloppy Game 1, with his teammates looking out of sorts, Hossa played like he had been there before.
He set up Brouwer's first goal with a no-look dropoff pass in the first period and then reversed himself behind the net before finding Brouwer in the second. He also had a hand in Patrick Sharp's two-on-one goal, drawing attention on the other side of that break, and in Game 2 he knocked in Sharp's rebound with hard work at the front of the net.
"If he wasn't getting good chances we'd be worried," Kris Versteeg said. "But every game, he creates chances."
Question is: Can Hossa create a different finish after two unhappy endings.
"There's always a few different things you learn," he said. "Obviously, when you didn't win, you kind of have the time during the summer to think about things, got more enthusiasm coming to the new series. It really helps. We have a great team. A great chance."