Commentary

Even 10 years later, it's a matter of trust for Osgood

Updated: May 8, 2008, 3:23 PM ET
By Terry Frei | Special to ESPN.com

The first instinct is to consider this Western Conference finals matchup a renewal of a rivalry.

But it has been 10 years -- 10! -- since the teams, then both in the Central Division, met in the postseason.

[+] EnlargeChris Osgood
Dave Reginek/Getty ImagesChris Osgood is 6-0 with a 1.52 GAA and .937 save percentage since taking over for Dominik Hasek in the first round.

That's almost hard to believe.

Seeking their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship in 1998, the Red Wings knocked off the Stars in a six-game Western Conference finals.

Actually, one of the major memories of that series for many (including me) remains the emotional interlude between Games 3 and 4, when former Red Wings defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov, who had suffered debilitating injuries in a limousine accident after the 1997 championship celebration and spent five weeks in a coma, took a break from his rehabilitation in Florida and returned to Detroit to meet his former teammates on the off day and stuck around to watch the next game.

At the time, Mike Babcock was in his fourth of six seasons behind the bench of Major Junior hockey's Spokane Chiefs. Perhaps he was respecting the work of the eventual Memorial Cup champion Portland Winter Hawks and wingers Brenden Morrow and Marian Hossa, and hoping Chiefs co-owner George Brett wouldn't throw a fit after any Spokane losses. ("Who own the Chiefs?" "The Brett Brothers.")

Since then, Pavel Datsyuk notwithstanding, the Wings' roster has gone from a heavily Russian-influenced group to having more Swedes than ABBA on stage -- with a backup band of musicians from Ornskoldsvik and Gothenburg. From the international cast of characters (and character), Nicklas Lidstrom has been the bedrock, and Kirk Maltby (who has yet to play this postseason because of a hamstring injury and the team's subsequent reluctance to tamper with its winning formula), Kris Draper, Tomas Holmstrom and the returned Darren McCarty remain.

In 1998, it seemed that Dallas defenseman Craig Ludwig's pads were older than some of his teammates. But Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen and Sergei Zubov have hung around for another decade.

Am I forgetting anyone?

Other than Red Wings holdover anthem singer Karen Newman and longtime public-address announcer Budd Lynch, the war hero who lost his arm in Normandy fighting shortly after D-Day? (By the way, his new book, "My Life: From Normandy to Hockeytown," is fascinating reading.)

Oh, yeah. The Red Wings' 1998 playoff goalie.

Chris Osgood.

He was the successor to the more renowned veteran, in this instance, Mike Vernon, and it was as if everyone involved held "Ozzie" at arm's length. It's not fair to say he was the weak link, because he wasn't. He was the link nobody seemed to trust completely, though he had posted pretty good postseason numbers in the past and had been the No. 1 goalie during the Wings' record-setting 1995-96 regular season.

Ten years later, that's the one thing that hasn't changed.

Osgood has knocked around since, going to the Islanders and Blues before returning, and Dominik Hasek is waiting in the wings, so to speak.

But for now, it's Osgood versus Marty Turco.

In 1998, Osgood was looking down at the other end and seeing Ed Belfour, who would spend the next two playoff runs (but not this one) arguing or at least trying to prove he was better than Patrick Roy. But that -- Dallas' back-to-back seven-game conference finals victories over Roy and Colorado -- would be in the future.

In 1998, Osgood got the job done.

And you know what? He's going to do it again.

It's been awhile since he allowed a goal on a shot from the Lodge Freeway, his Achilles' heel in the past. He is so much more popular "in the room" than the flighty Hasek (both in general and wherever both goalies have gone in their travels), he even makes teammates root for him.

So far in the postseason, after taking over from Hasek during the Nashville series, Osgood is 6-0, with a 1.52 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage.

On Wednesday, Osgood attributed it to "just doing the right things in practice with [goaltending coach] Jim Bedard and staying ready. Even when I wasn't playing, I felt confident, even before I went in, that I could do the job. Just being ready, so I wasn't standing there doubting myself whatsoever … Then again, the second part is, you know, the team's playing really well. I don't feel like I need to go in there and steal games. I just have to play solid and play sharp, and make the saves when I have to. I feel like I'm capable of doing that."

Babcock on Wednesday brought up his belief that Osgood "reinvented himself."

"He went back one summer after his first year back here and learned how to butterfly," Babcock said. "As simple as that seems, he would always say to me, 'The 15-year-old kids butterfly better than I do.' Well, you can't play in the league today without that ability. So he fixed his game and reinvented himself. And I think a lot of us have to do that, whether we're a writer, whether we're a coach, whatever walk of life we're in. It's about lifelong learning and getting better, or someone else has your job. And if Ozzie hadn't made those adjustments, he still wouldn't be playing."

The Red Wings' amazing ability to play keep-away with the puck enters into it, of course, but the Stars -- Modano, Mike Ribeiro, Brad Richards, et al -- will be good enough at battling that to give Osgood a legitimate test.

That's not saying he will outplay Turco, who last season rid himself of that playoff albatross and has been good this postseason after it turned humid in the Metroplex. That's not the issue.

Although there's a significant chance Hasek could be in the Detroit net by the end of the series, and it would be folly to rule that out, the feeling here is that Osgood's going to be good enough against the Stars … and beyond. Rested from a full week off after the sweep of Colorado, he gets his first chance to prove that Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena.

"We relished the time off," he said. "It was good for our team; we feel refreshed. What happens is you get excited to play again, because you kind of get sick of practicing. We've had some time off here, and we're ready and raring to go."

Osgood won't necessarily be the reason the Red Wings win. Not with the way the Wings dominate zone time and possession; Brian Rafalski and Lidstrom get the puck up ice; Henrik Zetterberg and Datsyuk work together; Johan Franzen is becoming the most famous "Mule" since Francis, the talking movie star; and a myriad of other reasons.

Ten Years After's greatest hit was "I'm Going Home." (And the group sang it in front of the multitudes, some of whom were clothed and coherent at Woodstock.)

Osgood's gone "home," too, and a decade after he hoisted the Cup overhead, he'll advance to the Cup finals again.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of the just-released "'77" and "Third Down and a War to Go."

Terry Frei

ESPN.com contributor
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."