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Osgood makes good as Wings' No. 1 goalie

by Larry Wigge

Goaltender Chris Osgood put the finishing touches on a spectacular postseason by robbing Sidney Crosby on a tough backhand shot in the final seconds of the Detroit Red Wings' Stanley Cup clinching victory.
PITTSBURGH -- There's no masking the obvious in the playoffs, where goaltending is never more important, where every shift, every shot and every save is magnified 10,000 times.

The last play of this year's Stanley Cup Final was a perfect example of that phenomenon. The game was in Chris Osgood's hands – literally – as he stopped a tough backhand shot by Sidney Crosby with time ticking away and then watched as Marian Hossa's rebound attempt slid across the goal crease as time ran out to give the Detroit Red Wings a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6.

"All I remember is seeing that puck slide dangerously across the goal crease ... and then I saw the referee's hands in the air to signal the game was over and I just jumped for joy," Osgood said of stopping 20 of 22 shots. "This is simply awesome. It never gets old."

For Osgood, you could say this was a flashback to 10 years ago on a steamy summer night in Washington – when he led the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup sweep over the Capitals. Since then, however, he was let go by the Red Wings, playing with the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues until he re-signed with Detroit after the lockout in 2005. Oddly, in this Stanley Cup run, he was expected to look on as Dominik Hasek led the team's fortunes. But he took over in the first round of the playoffs and won 14 games without any hiccups – no long, soft goals like in 1998 en route to that championship. No hesitation to take the No. 1 job and run with it.

"Ozzie is a fantastic story," coach Mike Babcock said. "When you pull your goalie in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that usually means you're going fishing in about three days – not 14 more wins later that we needed to get it done.

"You've got to give him a lot of credit. He sat in my office at my house three years ago and talked about reinventing himself – and he did. He's changed to a butterfly style and now back as one of the top goalies in the league because of his mental toughness and his stick-to-itiveness. And I think he showed that in bouncing back and winning tonight, that he was here again at center stage was extra special."

"His whole lifestyle is like this," added Dallas Drake, another second-time-around Red Wings veteran who started his career in Detroit with Ozzie. "He's a calm guy. He doesn't get flustered by anything. He's a calming influence on us. He can give up two goals in the first minute and not get rattled one bit.

"He's been like this since I have known him."

Most people forget that Osgood is second in franchise history in wins, first in playoff victories and, at the end of the regular season, ranked 15th all-time with 363 victories. Given the Red Wings' penchant for success and the fact Osgood signed a three-year extension in January, it's likely he will finish in the top 10 for all-time wins.

That contract, you might be interested to know, took ...

"The negotiations were over in five minutes," GM Ken Holland said. "Chris could have had his agent check to see how much interest there would be in him as a free agent this summer. But he knew what he wanted and he had no interest in waiting for more money."

Now, 35, the Peace River, Alberta, native, was beside himself with joy, after being a part of three Cups in Detroit – backing up Mike Vernon in 1997 and leading the way himself in 1998 and 2008.

"The last time I was young and it went by so fast," he explained. "This one I took it all in from the time that I took over for Dom in the first round. I never doubted myself for a minute at any time, even if others did."

Vindication? Osgood wouldn't bite on that one.

But Holland admitted that one of the most difficult phone calls he ever had to make came in the summer of 2001, after he had acquired Hasek from Buffalo – and knew he would have to call Osgood and tell him he was about to be traded.

Holland, a former goaltender with an affinity for netminders, explained, "There are certain things you never get used to ... and this was one of the worst. I still remember back when I was the Western Canada scout for the Wings and we lived in Medicine Hat and that's where I first saw Ozzie play. After a while he would show up at the arena and play ball hockey with us. He became like a fifth child to me.

"I'll never forget just before the draft in 1991, I took him aside after one of our ball hockey games and told him to be ready in the third round, that we were going to take him. You should have seen the look in his eyes. To this day, I think he's always considered himself a Red Wing for life."

Obviously very few things are for life, but Osgood was as good as it gets for Detroit in this year's playoffs – and he truly proved you can come home.

That second phone call from Holland in August of 2005 was much better.

"I know he had told me a couple of times in passing that he'd love to come back to Detroit, but he would never come out and beg me to give him a contract. Even when we played golf together in Vernon, B.C. (where Holland has a summer home and Osgood bought a house on the lake there)," Holland remembered. "When I called him that day, I could almost feel him jump through the phone."

Osgood remembers that phone call fondly.

"I was hoping Kenny would get back to me, but I wasn't sure," he said. "I remember telling friends, however, that I knew somehow, some way I was going to wind up back in Detroit."

"There's nothing that gets me more pumped up than hearing the fans chant, 'Ozzie. Ozzie. Ozzie.' " - Chris Osgood

It was like a fairy tale destiny that he returned to Detroit and won over all of the fans.

Osgood added, "There's nothing that gets me more pumped up than hearing the fans chant, 'Ozzie. Ozzie. Ozzie.' "

The new Osgood was a hit from the first time he stepped into the goal crease his second time around, with the help of a Windsor, Ontario, goaltending coach named Stan Matwijiw.

"I took what I did good, and then I erased the things I didn't do so good," he explained. "And I improved on the new things I needed to learn to become the goalie I am today. It took a while. It just doesn't happen overnight, but now I think I've got it down pretty good."

Holland says the new Ozzie is perfect for the Wings, adding that it's difficult to find a goalie with the right mental makeup to play behind the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart and Co. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg also provide great defense up front, where goalies are still under a microscope even if the team allows an average of around 21 shots on goal.

"All of our goalies are in a no-win situation, especially when you don't get the credit when you win, but you do get the blame if you lose," Holland explained. "To me, the best part of Ozzie is his makeup. You won't find anyone more mentally tough. He's laid-back, but there's a passion burning inside of him. It takes a strong mental toughness to stand there for 15 minutes and then -- boom – you have to make a big save.

"I'm not going to tell you that he is one of the top five or six goalies in the game, but for our team he is perfect."

In the Land of Oz, there's nothing as good these days as Osgood.

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