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 1997 Playoff Review

  For Detroit, Osgood Is Cheering the News
By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 9, 1998; Page E3


Osgood
Osgood is ready to defend Detroit's title.
(File Photo)

DETROIT, June 8 — Amid the ear-splitting din of Joe Louis Arena Tuesday night, it may be hard to distinguish heckles from cheers.

The chants of "Oz-zie, Oz-zie" will be intended to pump up Detroit Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood. And the catcalls of "O-lie, O-lie" will be designed to rattle Washington goalie Olaf Kolzig as the Red Wings and Capitals face off for Game 1 of the 1998 Stanley Cup finals.

Kolzig and Osgood are making their Stanley Cup debuts in net following seasons spent primarily backing up better-known players. But their commonality, aside from similar nicknames, ends there.

Kolzig, 28, has been the backbone of the Capitals' surprising romp through the Eastern Conference playoffs. He leads all goalies in the postseason with a 1.69 goals-against average and four shutouts.

The younger, smaller Osgood, many Detroit fans fear, could be the weak link in the Red Wings' bid to become the first NHL team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups since the Pittsburgh Penguins did so in 1992.

Still, Capitals Coach Ron Wilson said he laughs at those who give Washington the advantage in goal. "[Osgood] has improved every year he's been in the league," Wilson said today. "This is his time. Those guys are going to battle, and it's going to be fun."

So far in the playoffs, Osgood has shown both resilience and vulnerability. He has given up three goals from behind the blueline, including a 90-foot shot by Jamie Langenbrunner in overtime that enabled Dallas to pull within one game (3-2) in the Western Conference final. Two nights later, he came back to close the series with a shutout in Game 6.

Osgood, 25, has had little to say through his recent ups and downs, ducking questions about the two soft goals he let slide by in Game 5 against Dallas. Meanwhile, his coach and teammates have rallied to his defense.

Said Red Wings defenseman Larry Murphy, a former Capital: "He's obviously had a couple setbacks in the series and bounced back even stronger, which is what you want in a goaltender. At some point in the playoffs you're going to reach some adversity: How you handle it is the true gauge of how good of a goaltender you are."

A Red Wing since 1993, Osgood split playing time last season with goalie Mike Vernon. But Vernon got tapped to play in the 1997 Stanley Cup finals and led Detroit to its first title in 42 years, being named most valuable player along the way. So it was a bit of a shock when Detroit traded Vernon to San Jose last summer. Osgood has performed solidly in his stead, posting a 2.21 goals-against average and a save percentage of .913 in the regular season.

"He was thrust in a tough situation this year, but he was ready for it," said Detroit Coach Scotty Bowman. "As it turned out, [the trade] was a very gutsy decision. But the team has had a lot of resolve with him. He knows there has never been a question of any of the players on the team, even when we have lost some games."

At 5 feet 10 and 178 pounds, Osgood is tiny compared to Kolzig — giving up nearly 50 pounds and a half-foot to Washington's strapping goaltender. He has a baby face, limpid blue eyes and a sparse strawberry-blond beard and mustache. Quiet and aloof even among teammates, Osgood finally spoke to the media today when his presence was required at a news conference.

He arrived with a range of facial expressions — from curled lips to furrowed brows and vacant stares — that conveyed his discomfort at being on hand.

Osgood said his confidence is intact on the eve of his biggest game ever. But Friday's shutout against Dallas, he insisted, had nothing to do with that. "I've always been confident," Osgood said. "I've always felt good. I don't think I've fluctuated from a good game to a bad game."

Osgood said he had dodged people the last two days to "refocus" and prepare to play. He hadn't read any newspapers and only watched TV, he said, because "what else am I going to do?"

Osgood said he doesn't reflect on his mistakes on the ice, but thinks instead about how he can win the next game.

"Every player makes mistakes — forwards, defense, goalies," he said. "That's why it's a team game. Everyone covers for everybody, and guys pick up for other guys when things aren't going their way."

While he played junior hockey with Kolzig, Osgood professed to know little about the Capitals — other than they have two strong offensive lines and several defenders who can score. "I don't know how many times I've played against them," he said, "or what my record is against them." (It is 3-0).

Asked what a Stanley Cup victory would mean, Osgood said he was at a loss. "I haven't really thought about it," he said. "I'm excited about the opportunity I have, being a guy that's played all this time and now I have a chance to win."

And he bristled when asked about his mental toughness. "I don't really think that question should be asked any more," Osgood said. "I've always played big games. Memories are short-lived here. I've been mentally strong since I've been in the league."

Detroit forward Darren McCarty agreed. "He let in some goals he's not happy with and took a little bit of ribbing about and some criticism, but he bounces back," McCarty said. "You can't let those few goals here and there blemish the way that he's played. He's won some games for us by himself this playoffs. We need him to play well. And we know he'll play well."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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