I've been reluctant to talk about my favorite team in sports: The Detroit Red Wings. As a lifelong fan, I remember going to the old Olympia Stadium as a child with my family, and more often than not, watching the Red Wings lose. That's because the last time the Detroit Red Wings contended for the Stanley Cup Championship was before I was born, in the 1950s.
All that changed when Steve Yzerman joined the team and the Red Wings slowly put the pieces together that led to their all-but dominance of the Hockey World in the 90s, culminating in back-back Stanley Cup Championships. And as the Red Wings got better and better, so did the morale of the City of Detroit and all who loved the Red Wings, and all who loved Hockey.
But all good things come to an end, and so did the career of Steve Yzerman. The thing about sports, if you stick with your team long enough, is that you'll see them when they're down, you'll see them when they're on the way up, you'll see them at the top, and you'll see them decline. So since our heady days at the top, while the Red Wings have never sunk to the depths they were in in the early 80s, they haven't quite reached the pinnacle again. But after last night's overtime 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators, I believe there's hope, and hope's name is Chris Osgood.
Chris Osgood was an integral part of that back-back Stanley Cup Championship team, but Chris Osgood's career with the Red Wings has been an up and down affair mirroring their ups and downs as a sports team. After Osgood's rookie season, management felt that the team needed a strong veteran goaltender with Stanley Cup playoff experience. In the summer of 1994, the Red Wings traded popular defenceman Steve Chiasson to the Calgary Flames for goaltender Mike Vernon, who had previously backstopped the Flames to a Stanley Cup title in 1989.
While the 1994-1995 season started late due to a lockout, Osgood found himself backing up Mike Vernon for the season. The Wings reached the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals that season, where they were swept in four games by the underdog New Jersey Devils. Osgood received significantly more playing time for the 1995-1996 season, and he led the NHL with a 2.17 GAA and 39 wins. He also finished third in shutouts (5) and was a Vezina Trophy runner-up to Jim Carey. Osgood and Vernon shared the William M. Jennings Trophy as the goaltending tandem allowing the fewest goals in the league. For his efforts Osgood was selected to the NHL All-Star Game and was also named to the post-season NHL All-Star Second Team. Osgood even added a goal to his fantastic season, becoming the second goaltender in NHL history (Ron Hextall was the first) to shoot the puck into an empty net in a game against the Hartford Whalers. Another premature playoff exit soon followed, as the top-seeded Red Wings lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Colorado Avalanche.
The next season Osgood and Vernon shared starting goaltender duties in the regular season, but when the playoffs started, virtually all the playing time went to Vernon, who ended up winning the Conn Smythe Trophy. In the end, Osgood had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup as the Red Wings swept the Philadelphia Flyers in four games to win their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.
After the Cup win in 1997, Vernon was traded to the San Jose Sharks, which made Osgood Detroit's number-one goaltender, with Kevin Hodson and Norm Maracle backing him up for the 1997–1998 season. Again, the Red Wings were able to advance to the Stanley Cup finals and defeat the Washington Capitals (in another four game sweep) to win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.
Osgood remained the primary goaltender for Detroit until the summer of 2001, working alongside Bill Ranford, Ken Wregget, and Manny Legacé. But in the summer of 2001, the Red Wings acquired goaltender Dominik Hašek, a six-time Vezina Trophy winner, from the Buffalo Sabres. After numerous attempts to trade Osgood, the Red Wings left him unprotected in the waiver draft and he was acquired by the New York Islanders on September 28, 2001.
Hasek, or "the dominator," returned the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup Finals and they won the Championship that year. But ever since, while the Red Wings have been hovering at the top, they haven't recaptured that championship winning form. Perhaps, until now.
Dominik Hasek, one of the greatest goalies of all time, is still the number one goalie in Detroit, but he has struggled in this first-round playoff series against the Nashville Predators. While the Red Wings were up 2-1, they fell apart after Hasek let a couple goals in that resulted in a Nashville win and a 2-2 series tie. Once again, the Red Wings turned to Osgood, who have a successful stint with the St. Louis Blues, came back to the Red Wings in 2005; and after a number of years of injuries, is having one of the best seasons in his career at exactly the right time.
Last night, in one of those "Circle of Life" moments, Osgood hung tough in goal and made possible Detroit's 2-1 overtime win bringing the series to 3-2 in Detroit's favor and keeping the team's hopes of a Stanley Cup Championship alive after winning the President's Trophy as the team with the best record in Hockey in 2007-2008. The irony is, of course, that Osgood is once again the go-to man when seven years ago he was discarded by the Red Wings in favor of Dominik Hasek.
I've been reluctant to talk about the Red Wings and beat my chest with smack talk, until now. Sunday's game against Nashville will be telling, and if Detroit can win it and move on to the next round of the playoffs when the Predators have their backs against the wall, it will be a tastse very sweet: for me, for Red Wings fans, and for Chris Osgood!
I can hear the chanting at Joe Louis Arena now as if it were ten years ago and Detroit was celebrating in the euphoria of it's back-back Stanley Cup Championship: OS-GOOD! OS-GOOD! OS-GOOD!
But we got it all wrong. Osgood isn't just good, he's among the best that ever played in goal.
Thanks for reading.
UPDATE SUNDAY EVENING: The Red Wings are just three minutes away from beating Nashville 2-0 in Game 6. Chris Osgood started the game and remained perfect in goal. The Cheers have begun, and if the shutout holds and the Predators are indeed eliminated, I'm sure the cheers will erupt: OS-GOOD! OS-GOOD!