Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
All kinds of excuses have been made to exclude Chris Osgood from the short list of great NHL goaltenders. However, the veteran netminder's ability to dominate in the playoffs is rendering all of those points moot.
Osgood has been counted out and passed over so many times, and sadly, I've also been guilty of underestimating the Red Wings goaltender on numerous occasions. In fact, just last week I somehow convinced myself that I'd rather have Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury in goal for the Stanley Cup finals than Osgood. When will we ever learn?
The 35-year-old backstop was already having a sensational postseason before shutting out the high-powered Penguins in both Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup finals. Osgood has stopped all 41 shots he has faced against the Pens in becoming the first goaltender to shut out the opposition in the first two games of the finals since Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils blanked Anaheim in Games 1 and 2 in 2003.
The only time a goaltender notched three straight shutouts to begin a Cup finals was in 1945, when Toronto's Frank McCool achieved the feat against the Red Wings.
Chris Osgood has been more than just good in the playoffs.
All told, Osgood is putting together a Conn Smythe-caliber postseason, going 12-2 with a superb 1.38 goals against average and .939 save percentage in his 15 appearances.
So what is it about Osgood that makes people outside of Detroit count him out time and time again?
The biggest knock against Osgood has always been his lack of size, considering the Peace River, Alberta native is listed in Detroit's media guide as 5-10, 176 pounds. Still, the always astute Red Wings scouting department was able to steal Osgood in the third round of the 1991 draft.
Through his early career, Osgood was able to show that his puck-stopping ability would not be hindered by his smaller frame, and he instead relied on preparation and positioning to get the job done.
Osgood ultimately put the questions about his size to rest by winning a Stanley Cup title as Detroit's starting goaltender in 1998, but by then, the critics had come up with a new mark against the netminder. For some time now, the consensus has been that Osgood is an average goaltender who ha merely benefited from the Detroit system and the formidable roster that Red Wings general manager Ken Holland puts together year after year.
Yet, saying that Osgood is only a product of his environment is not exactly fair.
Dismissing Osgood because of the Red Wings' talent is like ragging on Ringo Starr's drumming ability simply because the other members of the Beatles were John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Sure, maybe Ringo wasn't the most talented member of the Fab Four, but he was a contributing Beatle nonetheless.
Likewise, Osgood lacks the allure of names like Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg, but that doesn't make him any less important to the recent history of the Red Wings.
Osgood did leave the comfort of the Red Wings franchise after the 2000-01 campaign and spent a few years in obscurity with the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues before returning to Detroit for the first season following the lockout.
Osgood didn't win any Cups while he was away, but did have a few solid seasons despite no longer having the Detroit "system" at his disposal. In fact, while with the Blues in 2003-04, Osgood played in a career-high 67 games and was 31-25-8 with a solid 2.24 goals against average. He also recorded 32 victories while playing for the Islanders in 2001-02.
But, Osgood's best years have been with the Red Wings, a fact that's obvious when you consider that only Hall-of-Famer Terry Sawchuk has more victories by a goaltender in Detroit history. Sawchuk also played on teams with a great deal of talent, and that didn't stop anybody from giving "Uke" the credit he deserved.
What really makes Osgood special is his how he steps his play up in the postseason. He is 57-39 in 102 career playoff games and has put together a stingy 2.11 GAA and solid .918 save percentage in those outings.
It's also important to note the level of impact Osgood has had on the Red Wings' current postseason run. Detroit was tied at 2-2 after four games of its opening-round series against Nashville when head coach Mike Babcock decided to make the switch from future Hall-of-Famer Dominik Hasek to Osgood.
The 43-year-old Hasek was 2-2 with a 2.91 goals against average in the four tests, and all Osgood did was immediately lead Detroit on a nine-game winning streak, a franchise record for consecutive wins in a single playoff year.
Through it all, Osgood has remained quiet about his detractors. Then again, it must be easy to stay positive when you've been on the winning side as often as has Osgood.
MOTOR CITY MELTDOWN
Osgood played a huge role in frustrating the Penguins' once prolific offense in Games 1 and 2, but Pittsburgh must also take a look at themselves when analyzing the 0-2 deficit.
During the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Penguins were able to roll to a 12-2 record by taking leads early in games and stifling comeback attempts with their overall team defense. So far, it's been the Red Wings who have scored early and put the clamps on Pittsburgh's offense.
The Penguins were averaging 3.64 goals per game during the playoffs, but haven't registered a single marker through two contests of the finals.
Naturally, the blame is being placed on Pittsburgh's normally prolific duo of captain Sidney Crosby and fellow centerman Evgeni Malkin.
Crosby, winner of the Hart and Art Ross Trophies last season, has nine shots in this series, but has obviously failed to register a point. The 20-year-old came into the series tied with Detroit's Zetterberg for the most points in the playoffs with 21, but the Red Wings superstar now holds the lead with 23 points.
Malkin's struggles stretch back even further, to the Penguins' conference finals series against Philadelphia. Since posting two goals and an assist in Game 1 against the Flyers, the 21-year-old Malkin has notched just one goal and one assist in six games.
Malkin, who is a finalist for this year's Hart Trophy, has 19 points (9 goals, 10 assists) in 16 playoff contests this year.
Detroit has been able to shut down Crosby, Malkin, and every other Penguin for that matter, by not allowing Pittsburgh to maintain possession in the offensive zone. The Penguins' passes through the neutral zone are being broken up, and their shots from the point are being routinely blocked. And, when Pittsburgh does get a rare offensive opportunity from in close, Osgood has been ready with a timely stop.
Pittsburgh does have hope as it returns home to play Games 3 and 4 at Mellon Arena, a building that has not been witness to a Penguins' loss since February 24.
If home cooking doesn't work, then this group of Penguins will truly be on thin ice.