DETROIT – Chris Osgood is the Red Wings’ unsung hero going into the NHL’s Western Conference final.
Johan Franzen’s scoring exploits have captured much of the attention during Detroit’s quest for the Stanley Cup, but Osgood’s goaltending contributions should not be ignored. The 35-year-old Albertan began the playoffs on the end of the bench but he’s won all six games he’s started since Dominik Hasek got the hook in the first round.
Osgood and the Wings go for seven in a row when the Dallas Stars step onto Joe Louis Arena ice Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET).
There has been little about Osgood during the winning streak that could be classed as spectacular. He doesn’t awe anybody. He just wins.
“The team is playing really well and I don’t feel that I have to go out there and steal any games,” Osgood said after practice Wednesday. “I just have to play solid, work hard and make the saves when I have to, and I feel I’m capable of doing that.”
He relies on quickness to offset his lack of size. He’s only five foot 10 and about 175 pounds, but he can move from one side of his crease to the other faster than most goalies. He’s got a good glove, too. Having confidence in himself, and a keen sense of homour, through thick and thin has helped enormously.
Although his 27-9-4 regular-season showing, plus an all-star game start, might have warranted giving him the nod to begin the playoffs, Hasek was selected. Osgood didn’t mope – never has.
“It’s doing the right things in practice with (goaltending coach) Jim Bedard and just being ready,” he said of waiting for this chance. “I wasn’t doubting myself because I was doing things in practice and off the ice to make sure I was ready.”
Osgood’s 14-year career has had more ups and downs than a roller-coaster. Three teams, including Detroit during his first go-round with the Red Wings, gave up on him, but he never gave up on himself.
Despite being the first-stringer in Detroit’s 1998 championship run, Osgood could never totally please then-coach Scotty Bowman. The Red Wings acquired Hasek in 2001, let Osgood go on waivers to the New York Islanders, and won the championship with the wily Czech in 2002.
After the Isles got Rick DiPietro, Osgood was shipped off to St. Louis, where he played for two years. The Blues didn’t re-sign him, and he returned to Detroit on a one-year deal in August 2005. He re-signed in 2006 for two more years, with most observers deducing that his career had waned and he’d finish it up as a pudgy No. 2 goalie.
Osgood would have none of that. He worked hard on his physical conditioning, and he took a fresh look at the technical aspects of his game.
“The biggest thing is that he reinvented himself,” says coach Mike Babcock. “He went out the summer after coming back here and learned how to butterfly.
“You can’t play in the league today without that ability. If Ozzie hadn’t made those adjustments, he wouldn’t still be playing. But he made those adjustments . . . and he’s playing really well right now. All power to him.”
Babcock can’t say enough about Osgood.
“He’s just a great person and he loves being a Red Wing,” said Babcock.
Osgood has a 1.52 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage in his six straight wins, and he’s had a week off to rest.
“The time off was good for our team,” says Osgood. “We feel refreshed. We’re raring to go.”
Babcock suggests that his players, having disposed of Nashville and Colorado, are about to kick it up a gear. They all enjoyed the first two rounds but “now it’s time to play.”
“We’re prepared, we’re rested and we’re excited,” says Babcock. “We’re a focused group, we’re a determined group. Only time will tell.”
While the Stars are deemed the physically toughest of the two teams, Babcock made a prediction involving body-crunching Wings defenceman Niklas Kronvall. Opponents are always looking to see where Kronvall is on the ice, Babcock added.
“He’s out there hunting you down,” he said. “He’s looking for you.
“He’s going to get somebody in this series. I guarantee it.”
It is the depth of talent in Detroit’s lineup – Franzen has 11 goals in 10 games but doesn’t even play on the top forward line – that convinces most of the experts that the Red Wings will win this series.
The Stars, of course, don’t care about what the experts say.
“We’re a different team than last year,” said centre Mike Ribeiro, who has a team-best 14 playoff points. “We have a lot more confidence and we’re a lot more mature.”
Notes: Dallas is in the West final for the first time in eight years . . . Stars goalie Marty Turco’s last win in Joe Louis Arena was when he played college hockey for the Michigan Wolverines (1994-1998). He’s 0-7-2 in The Joe during his NHL career . . . Detroit D Chris Chelios is eager to get back into the lineup after sitting out the deciding game against Colorado with a lower body injury . . . Dan Cleary usually plays a defensive role for the Red Wings but would move up to the second line with Franzen and Mikhail Samuelsson if Valtteri Filppula hasn’t sufficiently recovered from a leg injury by Thursday night . . . Detroit D Kris Draper is winning 62.4 per cent of his faceoffs.