Friday, February 27, 2009

Osgood Ready To Go -- i.e., Ready To Bounce Back (Again)

It's not like Chris Osgood hasn't been down this path before.

There was 1994, when as a 21-year-old rookie, playing in the playoffs only because of the incompetence of veteran Bob Essensa, Osgood sat in front of his locker and weeped, after his blunder cost the Red Wings Game 7 of their series against the heavily-underdogged San Jose Sharks. He bounced back.

There was the debacle of the 1996 playoffs, when the league-leading, record-setting Red Wings struggled in every series and eventually lost in the Conference Finals to the Colorado Avalanche, with Osgood and Mike Vernon both unable to stop pucks consistently. Osgood bounced back.

There was the tragic-comedy of the 1998 Stanley Cup run, when Osgood had the propensity for letting in shots from the blue line and beyond. After each occurrence, Osgood bounced back. The Wings won the Cup.

There was the stripping of his Wings when the team went and acquired Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek in 2001. Osgood was banished to the New York Islanders, of all places, and ended up with the St. Louis Blues, wallowing with mediocre teams and playing almost with the same level of mediocrity. Osgood bounced back.

There was the return to the Red Wings in 2005, only to have to sit and watch helplessly as Manny Legace gagged terribly in the 2006 playoffs. Osgood bounced back.

There was the relegation to backup goalie to Hasek in 2008, who was in his third tour of duty with the Red Wings. Then Osgood was called upon to jump in, cold, after Hasek stumbled through the first four games of the first round. Osgood responded, big time, and the Red Wings advanced to the Cup Finals.

There was the huge disappointment of allowing a game-tying goal with less than 30 seconds remaining in Game 5 of the Finals, the Stanley Cup polished and waiting in a nearby hallway. Osgood bounced back and played brilliantly in the clinching Game 6.

Now there's this -- battling regular season demons to the tune of being among the worst goalies, statistically, in the entire NHL. The playoffs fast approaching. A very public and potentially humiliating ten-day "break" having been served. Questions, again, surrounding the Red Wings' goalie situation. The ever-popular backup goalie -- this time it's Ty Conklin -- waiting in the wings, just in case. The familiar cry to "put HIM in, instead!"

Osgood, it says here, will respond. Again. Just like he always has.

"I just needed some time to figure things out," Ozzie told the papers this morning as he prepared to return to game action. "I feel real good now. I feel like I'm ready to go."

Probably is.

A couple weeks ago, Osgood shrugged off his struggles. He pointed to his resume.

"The thing is," he said firmly, "is that I know how to win playoff games."

That he does.

Osgood, I believe, will be named the starting goalie when the playoff drama begins in April. And, I think he will once again bounce back and keep that job, for as long as the Red Wings survive. It's been his trademark -- to rise like a Phoenix. They've been writing Chris Osgood off for years. Let 'em keep writing.

Osgood is coming back to the Red Wings after his "break". He says he feels fine. He reminds us that he knows how to win playoff games.

I think we should probably believe him. He's earned that.

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