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Wings need another big spring from Osgood

by John Kreiser
The Detroit Red Wings rode the goaltending of Chris Osgood to the Stanley Cup last spring. For the Wings to make a repeat journey, Osgood will have to be better in the playoffs than he was in the regular season.

Ozzie's regular-season won-lost record of 26-9-8 looks terrific. But his 3.09 goals-against average was the highest of his career and a full goal higher than last season. Osgood's .887 save percentage was last among netminders who played 40 or more games -- and .027 lower than last season.

Coach Mike Babcock plans to start Osgood in the playoffs. But he started Dominik Hasek last season, only to turn to Osgood after Hasek struggled in the first few games. Osgood's performance was so good that Hasek never got his job back, and the Wings rolled to the Stanley Cup, their second with Osgood driving the bus in goal.

The Wings need a solid performance in net. They need Osgood to play the way he did last spring, not the way he has for much of the season.

Five up -- Five players who go into the playoffs on a roll:

Chris Mason -- The St. Louis Blues are in the playoffs (as the No. 6 seed in the West) because Mason picked them up and carried them there. Sunday's 1-0 shutout at Colorado capped a 4-0-1 run by Mason, who was 9-1-1 in his last 11 decisions and finished the season 27-21-3 with six shutouts after struggling for the first three months of the season. He went 21-8-6 after the All-Star break.

Alex Ovechkin -- The Rocket Richard Trophy winner is red-hot as the Washington Capitals enter the playoffs. He had 7 goals and 11 assists for 18 points in the Caps' last 11 games, making a late run at the Art Ross Trophy before finishing second to Evgeni Malkin.

Nikolai Khabibulin -- For a player the Chicago Blackhawks didn't want (they put him on waivers before the season, but he went unclaimed), Khabibulin enters the playoffs as perhaps the most important Hawk. He finished the season 25-8-7 with a 2.33 GAA and went 5-0-1 in his last six starts, including a 3-0 win over Detroit on Sunday.

Eric Staal -- The oldest of the three Staal brothers scored six goals in Carolina's last five games, making him a 40-goal scorer for the second time. He also posted a career-best plus-15 rating -- the first time in his career he's been a plus player.

Scott Niedermayer -- Anaheim's captain put up plenty of points down the stretch as the Ducks used a late charge to finish seventh in the West. Niedermayer had 2 goals and 8 assists for 10 points and was plus-4 in Anaheim's last six games.

Five down -- Five players who've got to step it up in the postseason:

Evgeni Nabokov -- The Sharks rode "Nabby" to the Presidents' Trophy, but he ended the season on a down note, losing three of his last four starts, with only a 1-0 shootout victory over Colorado on the plus side. Nabokov has to be better for the Sharks to win.

Tomas Plekanec -- Plekanec was one of only three Montreal players to reach the 20-goal mark this season. But he had no points in his last eight games and just one assist in his last 13. Plekanec had just 39 points this season and must be more of an offensive force for the Canadiens to have a chance to upset Boston.

Todd Bertuzzi -- The big winger was one of several Calgary players to struggle down the stretch. After scoring 15 goals and putting up 44 points in his first 59 games, Bertuzzi went pointless in his last seven.

Mikael Samuelsson -- Detroit needs second-level scoring, something it didn't get from Samuelsson down the stretch. Though he had 19 goals, the Swedish forward went without a point in the final six games and had only one point (a goal) in his last 11.

Steve Mason -- Columbus' rookie goaltender is the favorite for the Calder Trophy, but he didn't finish strong -- winning just one of his last five decisions. His goals-against average has risen from 2.05 at the All-Star break to 2.29 at season's end.

Injuries, news and notes -- It's the time of season when players play through injuries that would sideline them during the regular season, so don't be surprised if someone who was ruled out for a game, a series or even the entire playoffs makes an unscheduled return.

Out -- Detroit could be without star forward Marian Hossa for the start of the playoffs. Hossa sat out the Wings' weekend games against Chicago after leaving Thursday night's game with a groin injury and might not be ready when the first round begins this week. ... Center Kris Draper missed the Wings' weekend games with an upper-body injury and is slated to be re-evaluated on Monday. ... Boston sat center Patrice Bergeron for its weekend games due to a foot injury.  ... Columbus center Andrew Murray left Saturday's game in the second period with a right hamstring injury. He was seen on crutches after the game. ...

Returning -- Anaheim got a boost when defenseman Francois Beauchemin played Friday's crucial game against the Dallas Stars. Beauchemin had knee surgery after a November knee injury and wasn't expected back until next season. ... Carolina expects to have center Matt Cullen ready for Game 1 of the playoffs. He's been out since March 21 with a foot injury, and the Hurricanes opted to sit him out even after he received medical clearance to play before Saturday's season finale. ... New Jersey forward Patrik Elias returned Thursday after missing four games with muscle tightness in one of his legs. ... Montreal defenseman Mathieu Schneider was back in the lineup Thursday after missing two games with a shoulder injury that originally was reported to need surgery and end his season. ... Columbus expects forward Kristian Huselius back for the playoffs. He sat out last week with concussion-like symptoms after banging his chin on the ice on April 4. Defenseman Rostislav Klesla returned Saturday from an oblique injury sustained on March 28. ... Calgary hopes forward Rene Bourque could be back for the start of the playoffs. He was enjoying the best season of his career before going down with a high ankle sprain on Feb. 19. ... Forward Boyd Gordon, out since March 19 with a broken right index finger, may return to Washington's lineup for Game 1 of the first round against the Rangers. The Caps also hope forward Donald Brashear (sprained knee) will be back.

Still out -- Columbus forward Fredrik Modin, out since March 5 with a sprained left knee, resumed skating last week but didn't play in the Blue Jackets' weekend games. The team doesn't know if he'll be able to play during the playoffs. Rookie center Derick Brassard will have his surgically repaired shoulder looked at by a doctor in Cleveland on Wednesday. He needs to be able to take contact in practice before playing again, but might be ready if the Jackets make the second round. ... Chicago forward Patrick Sharp missed the Hawks' last five regular-season games with a leg injury. They hope he'll be ready when the playoffs start. ... Anaheim defenseman Bret Hedican didn't make it back for the Ducks' last two regular-season games. He hasn't played since Feb. 28 due to back spasms and may not be ready for the postseason.

Non-playoff teams -- Florida center Stephen Weiss isn't likely to play in the World Hockey Championships. He needs surgery to repair a tear in his wrist. ... Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown will have his ailing back looked at this week in an MRI.

The week ahead -- Fourteen teams have headed for the golf course and other vacation retreats. The other 16 begin chasing the Stanley Cup when the playoffs begin Wednesday.

Games to watch   

St. Louis at Vancouver (April 15) --
The Blues, who stunned everyone by finishing sixth in the West, play their first postseason game since 2004 when they open their series at Vancouver, the Northwest Division champion.

Calgary at Chicago (April 16) --
The Stanley Cup Playoffs return to Chicago for the first time since 2002 when the Flames come to town. If you're headed to the United Center, bring ear plugs.

Columbus at Detroit (April 16) --
The reigning Stanley Cup champions open defense of their title against the last NHL franchise to qualify for the playoffs.

Carolina at New Jersey (April 17) -- The Hurricanes play their third-consecutive game at the Prudential Center -- they ended their regular season at New Jersey before opening the playoffs there.

New York Rangers at Washington (April 18) -- NBC begins its playoff coverage with a matinee as the Rangers visit Verizon Center, a place where they've won just once since 2004.   

Tough/Easy week ahead
For the first time in memory, there are no back-to-back games in any of the first-round series. Seven of the eight series have an extra day of rest somewhere along the way; only Philadelphia-Pittsburgh holds strictly to an every-other-day format. The Rangers and Capitals have two days off between Games 1 and 2; Anaheim and San Jose also have two days of rest between the series opener on Thursday and Game 2 on Sunday.
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