PITTSBURGH – Chris Osgood’s favourite band is the Eagles.
Perfect. “Take It Easy” was a huge hit, and it might as well have been Osgood’s credo during the NHL playoffs because nothing flustered him. Game after game, he lived in the moment and didn’t let a missed shot damage his inner confidence. Rock solid – that’s what he was.
Osgood made 20 saves as his Detroit Red Wings captured the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night with a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. He went 14-4 with three shutouts and a 1.55 goals-against average after replacing Dominik Hasek during the fourth game of the first round against Nashville.
“It’s never easy,” he said after taking his turn holding the silver trophy over his head for the third time in his career and the first time in 10 years. “It’s the toughest trophy in sports to win.
“Pittsburgh is a great young team and gave us all we could handle. That was probably the most difficult series I’ve played in a while. They held on right to the end. They kept pushing us.”
The 35-year-old native of Peace River, Alta., not only was extremely good this post-season, he was the biggest bargain of the post-season. One of the lowest-paid Red Wings, Osgood’s 2007-2008 contract paid him US$800,000. He signed an extension last January worth $1.7 million, $1.45 million and $1.1 million over the next three years, leaving him still way behind most other first-string NHL netminders.
Undervalued. Underappreciated. Whatever, Osgood has always been considered merely an average NHL goalie, but he proved this spring that he’s more than that – although it seems, whatever he accomplishes, he’ll never convince everybody. That’s just the way it is with some athletes.
Some will say any goalie would look good behind the best defence in the NHL. With five-time Norris Trophy winner Nick Lidstrom anchoring the blue-line corps, and with Selke Trophy finalists Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk headlining a cast of forwards who forecheck and backcheck like no others, Osgood had to face an average of only about 22 shots a game.
Regardless, nobody can deny that Osgood is one of the feel-good stories of the post-season.
He was Detroit’s No. 1 goalie for the 1998 championship run but was let go on waivers to the New York Islanders in 2001 after three straight years of playoff disappointments. The Red Wings brought in Hasek, and he helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2002.
The Islanders traded Osgood to the St. Louis Blues after investing their future in Rick DiPietro, and Osgood then became an unrestricted free agent nobody had much interest in after the cancelled 2004-2005 season.
Osgood re-signed with the Red Wings in 2005 with the aim of finishing his career in Detroit, and he spent the next two years as a backup. Everybody guessed his career was winding down.
No, Osgood reinvented himself. He worked hard during the lockout year to learn the butterfly style that has become so effective for others. But it wasn’t just that.
“Technically, he has improved greatly and it’s not just because of butterfly goaltending,” says former teammate and current Red Wings executive Steve Yzerman. “He stays bigger in the net, he challenges more shots, and he plays angles much better. “
“We’re lucky to have him.”
Osgood split the job with Hasek this season, and they shared the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed. Both won 27 games, and Osgood had slightly superior stats, but the team opted to go with Hasek when the playoffs began. Osgood went back to the end of the bench. He didn’t sulk. If he got his chance, he’d be ready.
In the fourth game in the first round against Nashville back on April 16, Hasek was awful. He was lifted in the second period, and in went Osgood, who would win nine consecutive games as the Wings finished off the Predators in six, swept the Colorado Avalanche and grabbed the advantage over the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference final. The Stars would fall in six, and the Wings would blank the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first two games of the final.
Hasek wasn’t getting back in now.
Osgood was the man. There was no doubt about it. He’d silenced the doubters.
“A little older and wiser,” he said when asked how he was different than the last time he earned a ring, back in 1998. “I’m more relaxed now.
“It’s fun playing for these guys. They’re awesome.”
Osgood broke Detroit’s career post-season victories record held by the late Terry Sawchuk, and with Wednesday’s victory he joined the Hockey Hall of Famer as the only goalies in NHL history to hoist the Stanley Cup at least 10 years apart. Sawchuk was a champion in 1955 with Detroit and in 1967 with Toronto.
We can imagine Ozzie slipping the Eagles’ “The Long Run” into his disc player to mark the achievement.
“When it all comes down, we will still come through.”