Darren Eliot
Thursday June 5th, 2008

Detroit's Stanley Cup-clinching win in Pittsburgh literally began and ended with goaltender Chris Osgood, which is the height of irony when you remember that Osgood didn't even begin the playoffs as the Red Wings' starting goaltender. Yet, there he was in Game Six of the Final, providing crucial clutch saves like his first of the game -- a point-blank snuffing of wide open Petr Sykora -- and his last move with a singular second remaining: denying Marian Hossa's desperate rebound bid to tie the game.

Those two plays at those two junctures of the game sum up Osgood's importance. In Game 5, he gave up an early goal of marginal difficulty. That was a rarity. His save on Sykora was more the norm: giving his team a chance to take control of the situation on enemy ice and not allow the home team any chance to gain momentum.

Sure, Osgood's teammates protect him exceedingly well. But in enduring long stretches of inactivity, the Red Wings' goaltender must focus in a "mind over matter" manner when it matters most -- like it did on his last-second goal line stand.

So, it is obvious now -- if it wasn't widely considered before -- that Chris Osgood is mentally tough. His youthful appearance at age 35 disguises that trait still. But lack of wrinkles no longer hides the fact that the man they call Ozzie has a huge heart and competitive drive to match. This is his third Stanley Cup with the Red Wings and his second as their starter. He backed up Mike Vernon in 1997 and backstopped the 1998 repeat championship team.

Osgood returned home to Detroit a couple of seasons ago after stints on Long Island and in St. Louis. He had 30-win campaigns in both locales, but respect seemed to lag behind the results. Despite the winning and his multi-Cup resume, most seemed to overlook Ozzie. The consensus was that the 1998 team won in spite of him, or at the very least, certainly not because of him. Some may go down that path again because, after all, the Red Wings were hockey's best team this season from start to finish.

But Dominik Hasek's first-round stumble finally puts Osgood's value in the proper perspective: Success is not guaranteed just because you tend goal on a strong team. Ask Tim Cheveldae, Bob Essensa, Curtis Joseph and Manny Legace about the pressure of delivering as the goaltender in Detroit. By coming off the bench to secure the ultimate prize, Osgood's other qualities finally come to the fore. He is a well-respected, hard-working teammate and consummate professional in that he never puts his own agenda ahead of the team's.

Chris Osgood just does his job. He put in hours refining his style. He faced countless shots that may seem meaningless and tedious to most, but to him it was the only way to stay ready. Just in case his team needed him. When they turned to him, Osgood didn't let them down. As the winningest goaltender in the storied Red Wings' playoff history -- to me, the only measure that matters at that position -- Chris Osgood is a winner.

His face might not give it away, but his name etched on the Stanley Cup for a third time is all anyone needs to know.

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