PITTSBURGH - What must bother the Penguins more than the disappearance of their stars during Saturday night's Game 5 meltdown in Detroit is that Marian Hossa could be right.

The Red Wings truly might be the NHL's best team, and Hossa's best chance of winning the Stanley Cup was with Detroit, not Pittsburgh.

The Red Wings not only lead the Stanley Cup finals 3-2 heading in a potential Cup-clinching Game 6 tomorrow night, they have a productive Pavel Datsyuk back in the lineup. They also exposed Pittsburgh's supposed edges in speed and star-class players as fraudulent during the 5-0, Game 5 rout.

And Hossa certainly isn't having any second thoughts.

Hossa doesn't have a goal, hasn't made a signature play, and has been less effective for Detroit than he was for the Penguins in the finals a year ago. Still, with one more victory, the man who has spent 11 months rationalizing why he left a championship-caliber team in Pittsburgh and the big money it offered to sign a 1-year deal with Detroit won't have to explain it any longer.

It rarely happens, a player giving a team the pink slip and not the other way around. But that's what Hossa did to the Penguins, who topped Detroit's money offer but couldn't match the prestige or the powerful lure of playing for a defending champion.

"I think he's really pleased with his decision," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said yesterday, a day off for both teams during the first 2-day break of the finals.

A comeback would be difficult, because Pittsburgh must win a Game 6 in which the Stanley Cup will be in their building, and then the Pens would also have to win Game 7 in Detroit, where they have been outscored, 20-5, while losing five of six in the last two finals.

"We've come back, we've bounced back," coach Dan Bylsma said. "We've battled in the face of adversity. This is a group of guys I believe in and am confident in. It's a tough situation." *