Blackhawks' Marian Hossa isn't playing like your average 36-year-old

CHICAGO -- The first real doubt crept into Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa's mind about the longevity of his career and whether he could fulfill his 12-year contract two seasons ago.

Hossa suffered a back injury during the Stanley Cup finals in 2013 and couldn’t feel his right foot because a disk was shooting into a nerve. The Blackhawks’ medical staff and Hossa contemplated offseason surgery, but they opted instead for other treatment. His back problem acted up again during training camp the following season, and again it was addressed.

“Definitely [had] some doubts in my mind,” Hossa said on Tuesday. “[Something] like this I never experienced before with the back. There were lots of problems with the back. Definitely was in my mind. ... [I had a] couple shots. After that, no problem with it. It was a good thing.”

Two years later, Hossa, 36, feels as good as he’s been in some time. He played every game this season, which is something he hadn’t done since the 2006-07 season, while he was with the Atlanta Thrashers. On top of that, he’s near the top of his game. He’s accounted for five assists, including four primary ones, to help the Blackhawks to a 3-1 series lead over the Nashville Predators in their first-round series. The series resumes Thursday night in Nashville.

Hossa isn’t offering any guarantees, but he could realistically envision himself playing out his contract, which expires after the 2020-21 season -- when he'll be 42 -- if he continues to feel like he does.

“As long as I feel healthy and I feel my game is on and no injuries, I’d like to play as long as possible,” Hossa said. “It all depends. All those things are questionable. So far when you look at this season, I played 82 games. I haven’t done it, I think, since I was 24, which was amazing and I’m glad.”

Hossa isn’t looking to the future right now. His focus is on the playoffs and obtaining his third Stanley Cup. That also means forgetting about a regular season that didn’t meet his standards.

Coming off a 30-goal season in 72 games during the 2013-14 regular season, Hossa’s goal total dropped to 22 this season. He had a spurt in which he scored seven goals in four games in February, but otherwise his production wasn’t where it normally has been. His 8.9 shooting percentage this season was the first time it was ever worse than 11 percent for a season during his 16-season career.

Hossa never let that affect his mindset. He liked the way he was playing, just not the results. Earlier in his career, he probably wouldn’t have handled it, as well.

“I think I’m using my experience more,” Hossa said. “I think when I go through those tough times when things aren’t going right, you know what to do instead of when you were young. You don’t try to think too much about things. Right now, what happened, happened. Just look forward. You have to go through the rough times, and you learn during those times. That’s what I’ve done. I’m in a different stage. I try to use that to my advantage.”

There’s also the fact the stage is now the Stanley Cup playoffs. Hossa doesn’t lack effort in the regular season -- any opponent who has had the puck taken from him by Hossa’s backchecking will know that -- but Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville believed there was a different level to that effort in the playoffs.

“He’s been real good,” Quenneville said recently. “I think Hoss is one of those players who really guides our team or leads our team in the right way, playing the right way, the importance of every game, the importance of how he plays positionally every shift. And the way whether it’s backchecking or his speed off the rush, just that all-out speed that playoffs are all about.

“You notice that pace that he brings. He’s got even more of a step come playoff time when he knows what’s at stake, and he likes to contribute at this time of the season.”

"I think you just forget about how much hockey he's played and how old he is -- that sounded awful."

Jonathan Toews, on Marian Hossa

One Western Conference scout thought one of Hossa’s strengths was his consistency. Whether he’s producing or not, he finds ways to change a game.

“He is consistently one of the best players on the ice each night,” the scout said. “Rarely could you say he had an off night.”

Hossa’s teammates take notice, too. Hossa’s play would in no way be ignored if he was 25, but it’s accentuated because he’s 36.

“I think you just forget about how much hockey he’s played and how old he is -- that sounded awful,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said recently while laughing. “I didn’t mean to put it that way. I guess my point is that you kind of forget that he’s been around, played a lot of playoff hockey, and he still seems to have that passion, that burning desire to be the best, and he just goes out there and does it. Makes it seem a lot easier than it really is.

“To think of where you’ll be at if you have the chance to play as long as he has, how that might feel, I kind of cringe thinking about it. It is pretty impressive, and obviously he’s always been a big part of our team since the day he got here and continues to do that.”

Hossa’s age and physical fitness are often topics brought up in the dressing room. Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg described Hossa with his shirt off as a “Greek god” earlier in the season, and others marvel at his physique and ability.

Hossa doesn’t mind. He isn’t one to begin lying about his birth date.

“It doesn’t bug me,” Hossa said. “My age is my age. I can do nothing about it. As long as I feel good, that’s what’s most important.”