Chicago Blackhawks’ What If … Hossa’s Boarding Penalty Was Altered

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 15: Marian Hossa
CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 15: Marian Hossa /

The Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators have had a couple intense Stanley Cup Playoffs series in recent years, starting with a 2010 matchup that featured a major “what if” moment in Blackhawks history

When the Nashville Predators swept through the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs’ first round, it was a bit of revenge for a pair of six-game series wins for the Blackhawks over the Predators, in 2010 and 2015.

That 2010 series was the start of Chicago’s run to its first Cup in 49 years. Without a series victory there, who knows what would or would not have happened between then and now.

Continuing this series of “what if” questions involving the Blackhawks in the Jonathan Toews/Patrick Kane era is one that comes from the 2010 first-round matchup. The Blackhawks were the Western Conference’s second seed, but the Preds refused to be pushed aside. The series was tied at two games apiece heading to Game 5 at the United Center.

And what a game that was. The Blackhawks went up 3-1 late in the second period, only to see that lead dissolved midway through the third period and turn into a 4-3 deficit. The Blackhawks chased the rest of regulation, but things got extremely dicey in the waning moments.

Marian Hossa was chasing Dan Hamhuis to the end boards, battling for puck possession. Hossa extended his arms with a shove on Hamhuis, sending the defenseman shoulder-first into the boards. The end result: a five-minute major to Hossa with just 1:03 to play.

You all remember the rest. Kane tallies with 14 seconds remaining shortly after Antti Niemi is pulled to get the situation back to 5-on-5. Then Hossa bursts from the penalty box four minutes into overtime, plants himself by the net and bats a rebound past Pekka Rinne to push the series to 3-2 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

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So what if Hossa’s penalty was changed in some way?

What if … Hossa’s boarding penalty was altered?

There are two options here, and one of them is not “not giving Hossa a penalty.” He clearly extended his arms, and while the shove was unlikely of ill intent, it resulted in a penalty by NHL rules.

So here are the two options for changing Hossa’s penalty:

— He receives a two-minute minor for boarding

— He receives a game misconduct and gets ejected

Those are obviously two wildly different scenarios. You’re talking about losing a Hall of Fame athlete for the rest of regulation and a minute of possible overtime versus losing that athlete for the entire game, no matter how long it lasts.

Still, the immediate issue for the Blackhawks would’ve been the same: They’d need to score a goal short-handed (or 5-on-5 after pulling the goaltender) within a 1:03 timespan. Not an easy task, even with the Blackhawks having stars like Toews, Kane, Patrick Sharp and others.

With a two-minute penalty on board, the Blackhawks would probably feel the same way they did when a five-minute penalty wasn’t assessed. Tough sledding, but not the end of the world. Who knows how the bench would have reacted if Hossa was ejected, though. It could have been instant deflation, making it extremely difficult for the Blackhawks to push through and force a tie.

Or, it could have fired up the team more. Momentum and motivation work in strange ways, especially in high-leverage situations like this one.

So let’s say Kane, or someone else, pots the game-tying goal before regulation ends in either of these altered scenarios. That leaves the “after” portion to be sorted out.

Changing how overtime played out

What wound up happening in real life was this:

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  • Dave Bolland won a foot race to get the puck into the offensive zone.

    — The puck was dished to Brent Sopel, who patiently dragged it behind the net before sending it up the boards to Niklas Hjalmarsson.

    — Hossa’s penalty expired as Hjalmarsson moved the puck to Bolland back below the net. Hossa took position right next to the crease, at Rinne’s right.

    — Bolland moved the puck up to Sopel at the point, and the defenseman one-timed a shot into a throng of players in front of Rinne. The puck bounced directly on to Hossa’s stick, and he tapped home the winner past a sprawling Rinne.

    Now, none of this happens if Hossa serves either a two-minute penalty or is out of the game. Maybe the Blackhawks would have been in the defensive zone while Hossa saw a minor penalty end. Perhaps he has to rush into a Nashville push that winds up seeing the puck go past Niemi.

    Sure, the Blackhawks could also still score in some other way. But the specific opportunity that was afforded by Hossa leaving the box at the point he did, after serving a five-minute major, led directly to a game-winning and series-turning goal.

    If the Blackhawks still find a way to win the game without Hossa’s heroics, there’s a good chance we’re still talking about history as it played out. The Blackhawks would feel heavily motivated by the way they won this game and have all the momentum heading to Nashville for Game 6. As weird as that game was (a 5-3 Blackhawks win that saw seven first-period goals), it’d be weird to assume the Blackhawks lose that game after winning Game 5, regardless of how the Hossa penalty played out.

    But if we alter Hossa’s penalty and the Blackhawks lose … that’s quite the rabbit hole to travel down.

    A series shifts the other way

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    So Hossa serves either a minor penalty or is ejected from the game, and the Predators overcome Kane’s late regulation tally to salvage an overtime win. They either score on their brief powerplay early in overtime, or they take advantage of the Blackhawks being down a top-six skater in an already intense affair.

    Then, we’ve got Nashville up 3-2 in the series heading back to Bridgestone Arena. They have two shots to close out the Blackhawks and pull off an upset. And maybe they do just that.

    What’s next for the Blackhawks then? You’ll remember the first true salary cap purge in Chicago occurred right after the Blackhawks won the Cup in 2010. Does that not happen after a first-round exit?

    Perhaps this team could’ve kept more of its supporting parts together and been a stronger team in 2011 and 2012. Maybe the San Jose Sharks don’t offer sheet Hjalmarsson in the 2010 offseason after the Blackhawks’ disappointing showing, in effect not forcing the team to choose between re-signing the defenseman or goaltender Niemi.

    Does Niemi stay around longer in this scenario? If he does, what does that mean for Corey Crawford‘s future with the organization? You’ll recall he got his shot at being the starter after Niemi departed in the 2010 offseason.

    On a bigger scale, the Blackhawks don’t win the Stanley Cup in 2010. What does that do for their mentality moving forward, under the leadership of Toews, Kane and coach Joel Quenneville? Hell, is there a chance Q is fired within a couple years if the Blackhawks don’t do the deed in 2011 or 2012?

    As crazy as it seems, Hossa’s penalty playing out exactly as it did was a critical turning point in the Blackhawks becoming a team that would win the Cup three times in six years. Sure, if the team loses to Nashville in 2010, perhaps we see some better teams than we did in 2011 and 2012, salary cap dependent. But do we see the same championship results?

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    It’s not always the biggest, most memorable moments that serve as turning points for sports teams. When Hossa was given a five-minute major for boarding Hamhuis in 2010, it probably seemed like the sky was falling for the Blackhawks. But it wound up being a major piece of history for the organization.