The Detroit Red Wings can be counted among the Stanley Cup contenders just about every year.

The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t become true Stanley Cup contenders until Feb. 26, just before 3 p.m. It was trade deadline day, when the Penguins acquired sniper Marian Hossa, along with forward Pascal Dupuis and defenceman Hal Gill.

It was a day for jittery general managers to wear their best poker faces and find out if they had the guts to make the bold move. Penguins GM Ray Shero had been feeling out Thrashers GM Don Waddell since the all-star game in Atlanta, but had given up hope of landing Hossa.

“That morning, at 10 o’clock, we didn’t have anything going,” said Shero. “By 3 p.m., when all the deals fell into place, it was satisfying and nerve-racking all at the same time.

“Looking back to Feb. 26, it’s how our team came together. Those guys have really helped us. Looking back, it feels good.”

If trade deadline deals are judged by a team’s success, then Shero may soon be hailed a genius if the Pens beat Detroit for the Stanley Cup, which begins tomorrow night in Motown.

The Red Wings made only one move that day, bringing in veteran defenceman Brad Stuart. GM Ken Holland was happy with a team that was dominating the league and would go on to finish first overall. The Wings were built on savvy drafting, patient development and the odd free agent acquisition.

The Penguins, by contrast, fast-forwarded themselves into contention when Shero made that bold move just minutes before the deadline. He surrendered Erik Christensen, Colby Armstrong, prospect Angelo Esposito and a first-round pick for Hossa and Dupuis. Shero had already acquired Gill from the Leafs for two draft picks.

Hossa, a sniper on Sidney Crosby’s right wing, has dispelled the ghosts that haunted his past playoff appearances. Dupuis is a solid two-way player, Gill a stay-at-home blue-liner.

In acquiring the trio of veterans, the message sent to the dressing room was as important as the new players.

“That day we said, ‘We could win this year. They’re not waiting,’” defenceman Ryan Whitney recalled. “People talked about our team as a team that could win it in two or three years, and all of a sudden, we get Hossa and Hal Gill and Dupuis, and you say, ‘All right, we’re going for it this year. The time is now.’”

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