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Red Wings' Osgood a changed goaltender

by Larry Wigge

Detroit's Chris Osgood currently leads the league in the postseason with a 1.52 GAA. Chris Osgood highlights
Just call him “The Os-inator.”

Since Chris Osgood replaced Dominik Hasek in goal for the Detroit Red Wings in Game 4 of the first round of the playoffs against the Nashville Predators, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound goaltender from Peace River, Alberta, has been a dominator. Get it?

Most people don't know this isn't the same Ozzie who was famous for letting a few long, soft bombs get past him -- like in 1998, when he yielded embarrassing center-ice goals by Phoenix's Jeremy Roenick, St. Louis' Al MacInnis and Dallas' Jamie Langenbrunner. And he still won the Stanley Cup that year!

Osgood was exiled from Detroit to Long Island and then St. Louis, before he was welcomed back to “Hockeytown” as a backup. Now 35, Chris is focused on today. Not yesterday, yesteryear or yesterworld.

"That was a long, long time ago," Osgood told me after stopping all 20 shots in Nashville in a series-clinching 3-0 win in Game 6. "I'm not the same guy. Nor do I play the same. I just focus on what I'm doing now, focus on playing well."

We both laughed, because we knew that was the politically correct thing for a member in good standing in the goaltender's union to say, so as not to create waves among the fraternity of masked men.

It's funny, but that same day Predators goaltender Dan Ellis had a meltdown not too different from one of those Osgood had back in 1998, surrendering a flip shot from beyond center ice by Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom that bounced and skipped past him to give the Wings a 2-0 lead en route to a three-goal victory.

I didn't have to remind Ozzie about the trials and tribulations a goalie can go through.

"Yeah, I remember," he said with a Cheshire cat smile. "I feel sorry for Dan, because he's been terrific in this series."

It's been nearly a decade since Osgood had those troubles. Back then, Osgood told me; "What do those people know about my job? Well ... everything I guess. Hey, I don't claim to be an expert in the field of particle physics or automotive design or cinematography, but everyone watching me seems to know what I should do better. Even when we win."

The quick-on-his-feet netminder has always been able to deflect shots from shooters and skeptics. The difference in this version of “The Os-inator” can be traced back to the 2004-05 lockout, when he began to work with University of Michigan goaltending coach Stan Matwijiw. He asked Matwijiw for a complete makeover, even after winning 350 NHL regular season and playoff games, including having a hand in Stanley Cups in 1997 and '98 (Mike Vernon was the goalie of record in the Final in '97, but Osgood did it all alone the next year).

"When St. Louis chose not to bring me back after the lockout, I felt comfortable going back to Detroit," Osgood said. "All I needed was confidence in the things Stan and I were working on.
My movement, keeping everything economical so that I would be in better position for the first shot and any potential rebounds, was the key."

In the three seasons before he began working with Matwijiw, Osgood had an 84-67-20 record, with a 2.51 goals-against average and 11 shutouts. In the three years since returning to Detroit, he's gone 58-18-15, with a 2.38 GAA and six shutouts.

Away from the rink, the conversation among fans hasn't changed much. Osgood is still a candidate to be the target by Red Wings fans who think anything less than a Stanley Cup is a failure. I remember writing back in 1998 that if Smokey Robinson sings off-key, he gets a do-over. Not Chris Osgood. Things aren't much different in that regard ... with Osgood or Hasek in goal.

This season, Osgood had as many decisions at No. 2 to Hasek's No. 1 (Ozzie was 27-9-4 with a 2.09 goals-against average, .914 save percentage and four shutouts to Dom's 27-10-3 record with a 2.14 GAA, .902 save percentage and five shutouts). But the Red Wings wanted to ride “The Dominator” the way they did last year, when the team came up just two wins short of beating Anaheim and making it to the Stanley Cup Final. That obviously hasn't worked out.

Since taking over for Hasek in Game 4 of the first round, Osgood has gone 6-0, with a 1.52 GAA, .937 save percentage and one shutout while leading the Red Wings past Nashville and Colorado into the Western Conference Finals.

"I've never seen Ozzie look so relaxed in goal," Lidstrom said. "He's not scrambling around like he once did. He's real solid positionally. Bottom line: He's strong for the entire 60 minutes ... and that gives the whole team confidence."

Dallas Drake, who has played alongside Osgood with the Red Wings and the Blues, agrees with Osgood's suggestions that his style has evolved over his career to the point that he's a better goaltender, fundamentally speaking, at 35.

Being a backup to a guy like Dom has helped me, because it's kept me driven. Dom and I have a good relationship. There's no jealousy if he carries the load ... or I do. But the older I get, the more I appreciate things. I've always felt that I knew when I was playing well when I look forward to each game. And that's how I feel now. Coming back here has been great for me. - Chris Osgood
"When you have a duo like this, it's hard to say who's No. 1 ... or even if you have to make a distinction," Drake said. "I've seen Ozzie as a kid in Detroit, played against him a lot of years when I was in Winnipeg, Phoenix and St. Louis and now I've played with him with the Blues and Red Wings. The thing that has never changed is his competitiveness. I think now he's even a smarter goaltender. He plays his angles even better than I remembered – even when we were together in St. Louis just a couple of years ago."

No. 1? No. 2? Osgood said there's not that much of a difference between he and Hasek.

"In the 1990s," Osgood said, "there was always a definite No. 1 and No. 2 goalie. There was a big difference. Now there are a lot of good young goalies and there are a lot of veterans. The difference between 1 and 2 isn't as much as it used to be.

"All I know is that I feel like I'm a better goalie than I was my first time around in Detroit. When I was young we didn't have goalie coaches. You played and taught yourself. Now they've got a technique for every kind of save you have to make – and I'd like to think that this old dog has learned a few of those tricks. I'll tell you one thing: I haven't lost my hunger to be a No. 1 goalie. Not at all.

"Being a backup to a guy like Dom has helped me, because it's kept me driven. Dom and I have a good relationship. There's no jealousy if he carries the load ... or I do. But the older I get, the more I appreciate things. I've always felt that I knew when I was playing well when I look forward to each game. And that's how I feel now. Coming back here has been great for me.

"I feel like I've got another great chance to win a Stanley Cup. And that's huge. All I want to do is run with the opportunity I've been given."

Os good as it gets? Yeah, that's sort of the theme the Red Wings are hoping for in the next month or so.

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