For a franchise accustomed to winning, the Red Wings looked like tots in an ice cream factory last week after beating Colorado in overtime. One-by-one they jumped at Chris Osgood, rubbing their goalie's head and teasing him that it took him three tries to get his 400th career win. (
"It's never easy for me," said Osgood, who tied a career-high with 46 saves during his mileston win in Denver. "I always have to fight for everything."
Especially for respect outside his own locker room.
Somewhere in between overrated and underappreciated stands a goalie who is beloved by his teammates, maligned by critics and likely headed to the Hall-of-Fame despite shortcomings and setbacks that would have sunk men of lesser fortitude.
Chris Osgood is is a fascinating study in perception. With a cherubic countenance, he is generously listed at 5'-10". At 38, he still looks like he should have homework and a paper route. He was easy fodder for the octopi-tossers in the Motor City who had, before his arrival in 1993, had treated former netminders Tim Chevaldae and Bob Essensa like scrap metal at the Chrysler plant. How could Ron Howard's alter ego have a chance?
"People can't see the toughness behind that baby face," says Ken Holland, the Red Wings' GM who signed Osgood out of Medicine Hat, Alberta, where he had played forward on Holland's ball hockey team. "Because of the quality of our skaters, people blame our goalies for losses and see them as passengers in wins."
Critics recall the goalie who gave up an 80-footer to Jamie Langenbrunner in Game 5 of a playoff series against the Dallas Stars. "People forget," Holland adds, "that Chris had a shutout in Game 6 to win the series."
They remember a weepy Osgood apologizing for a bad clearing pass that led to a series-clinching goal for the San Jose Sharks in 1994. Even now they overlook the fact that Osgood won his third Stanley Cup, his second as a starter, in 2008. They instead point to him overplaying his angle on a goal by Pittsburgh's Max Talbot during a 2-1 loss in Game 7 of the Cup final a year later. Until that moment, Osgood had been on his way to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy. It would have been his first major award.
Lack of hardware is the one thing that may yet keep Osgood out of the Hall of Fame, because all the other numbers are in his favor. He is the tenth goalie to record 400 wins, with Hall-of-Famers Grant Fuhr (403) and Glenn Hall (408) not far away. His regular-season winning percentage (.538) is higher than any of the 37 goalies who have at least 260 wins. And his numbers in the playoffs are better. His 74 wins rank eighth all-time. His 15 playoff shutouts are fourth best, one back of Curtis Joseph. He is the only goalie among the top 45 in playoff wins whose postseason GAA has never gone above 2.60 in any one year. Next on that list is Buffalo's Ryan Miller, who has just 22 wins.
Yet Osgood's career was foundering during the lockout in 2004, when he rented ice and, with a rookie's hunger, updated his butterfly technique -- moving on his knees and stopping pucks with his chest rather than kicking out as often. "I had to relearn muscle memory," he says. "I was fighting to stay in the league."
Holland re-signed him the next summer. Osgood later repaid his loyalty by signing a cap-friendly $4.2 million contract in 2008, just after leading the NHL in goals-against average and winning the Stanley Cup. He has always maintained amicable relationships with fellow goalies/teammates such as Mike Vernon, Manny Legace and Dominik Hasek, and he has become a mentor to Jimmy Howard since the 26-year-old wrested the No. 1 spot from him last season.
At the first sign of hijinks in the Wings' locker room, all eyes turn to Osgood. Anything out of place, from the Vaseline on the trainers' equipment to the players' headshots posted on magazine photos are usually Osgood's doing. As soon as Kirk Maltby took a swig from his water bottle and spit out beer during a postgame TV interview last year, he knew where to look.
Two weeks ago, after coach Mike Babcock dismissed the idea of starting Osgood at home to get his 400th win there, several Wings petitioned him to change his mind for the goalie's first crack at the milestone.
The Chris Osgood appreciation society, it seems, is always based close to home.