-- Over the course of the regular season's 82-game grind, every player will experience hot and cold streaks. Detroit Red Wings
goalie Chris Osgood
was no exception.
"It was a pretty dark tunnel in January, I've got to tell you," Osgood said.
But the 36-year-old Osgood has unquestionably found daylight. And while some may point to his postseason play as being the reason, he knows better.
"Over the last 15 games of the regular season, I tried to pick up my game a little more -- to the point where I felt good and sharp heading into the postseason," Osgood said. "That's experience where I know how to get to that point and now this is fun. I knew I needed to start playing well and I feel I was doing that over the last month and a-half."
Osgood went 8-4-1 with two no-decisions in his final 15 appearances of the regular season with a 2.46 goals-against average, .890 save percentage and two shutouts. Not staggering statistics by any means, but certainly good enough for the veteran Osgood.
"From experience, you just know how to prepare by doing the little things in practice to sharpen up and get in the right spot, mentally," Osgood said. "First and foremost is playing well so that when I step on the ice you're not second-guessing yourself. But that comes with doing the right things off and on the ice in practice so when you get to the playoffs, you're just playing and that's the point I reached."
Few would argue with Osgood. He's helped the defending Stanley Cup champion to three straight victories over the Columbus Blue Jackets
in their best-of-7 Western Conference Quarterfinal series with a 0.67 GAA and .974 save percentage. He stopped 31 shots in a 4-1 victory in Game 3 in the hostile environment of Nationwide Arena, and he'll look for a repeat performance in Game 4 on Thursday.
"Our goaltending has been real good, and yet it's not like we're that surprised," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "That's how he was last year in the playoffs. There's something about experience, in life. When you have it, it's good, and when you don't have it, it's overrated."
The Blue Jackets have discussed in detail the importance of getting second opportunities and crashing the net, perhaps to rattle Osgood and get him off his game. But they took their best shot on Tuesday and still fell short.
"Everyone anticipated that (Osgood) would struggle and I think everyone anticipated that to be a question mark, but he's been everything but," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He's been really good early in games. Our best periods have been the first of each game, and we still can't buy a goal and he's been the difference. He's made second and third saves, and that's something I don't think we thought would happen."
When the Detroit coaching staff gave Osgood a four-game break in February, skeptics claimed the end was near. Quite the contrary.
"I know he had a break during the season and some thought he was on the beach or something and that wasn't the case at all -- we just wanted to give him a mental break," Red Wings goalie coach Jim Bedard told NHL.com. "Someone actually asked me how his vacation was going, and I told him to come to a practice if you want to see his vacation because he was still working hard. It was more or less hitting the reset button to get back physically and mentally."
One aspect in which Osgood has excelled in this series has been controlling rebounds -- and when the puck slips away, he's had plenty of support.
"Sometimes it's luck, but it's all of matter being square and anticipating plays by knowing where it's going to go before it gets there and making yourself big," the 5-foot-10 Osgood said. "(Columbus) has big players, so for me, I just try and get as close as I can to them and try to make myself big and get to the puck before they can."
Bedard also realizes it's about trust, something the Red Wings have perfected. Trust has enabled Ozzie to take away 8-10 shots each game by way of handling the rebounds.
" I knew I needed to start playing well and I feel I was doing that over the last month and a-half." -- Chris Osgood
"It comes down to trusting your defensemen and your back-checkers," he said. "It's a great thing when a goalie can play aggressively and take all the net because when you see one of their players surrounded by three of our guys, you're instincts just tell you to take away more of the net because they are limited. Guys like (Henrik) Zetterberg, (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Marian) Hossa always come back into our end on a mission. That enables the defenders to stand up at the blue line and the goalie to play aggressive."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.