“With the way Huet starred for the Blackhawks, if Osgood doesn’t turn in the performance that he did, we’re talking about Game Six. And the Pittsburgh Penguins would continue to fiddle.”

 

First, it was supposed to be the young whippersnapper, Steve Mason, of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Mason, they said, even though he was just a rookie, was still enough of a hotshot that he could outplay the veteran across the ice from him. In the playoffs, no less.

Next, it was supposed to be another inexperienced young man, Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks. Hiller, despite zero minutes between the pipes in post-season NHL play, was still supposed to be a mighty enough Duck to elevate his team to the promised land.

Then, it was a wily veteran–Nikolai Khabibulin–who, for sure, had the chops to outplay the goalie 190 feet away. Khabibulin, after all, won a Stanley Cup in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Why not, right?

Yet Chris Osgood still stands. And much taller than his very generous 5-foot-10 media guide listing.

Osgood has outplayed them all–Mason, Hiller, Khabibulin, and even Nikolai’s replacement, Cristobal Huet–and has his Red Wings teammates right where they were last year at this time: in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Last night, in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals, Huet was fantabulous.

Osgood, in the end, was just a smidge better.

Hasn’t he always been, in the last two playoffs?

The Red Wings have won seven straight playoff series with Osgood tending net for them.

He may as well carve notches in his goalie’s stick, signifying the opposing goalies he’s slain.

In almost every instance, those goalies were supposed to be better than Chris Osgood.

The Red Wings, you see, are this good despite their goalie.

In the spirit of hockey: what a crock, eh?

First, a few words about Game Five– a 2-1 Red Wings victory in overtime.

This was hockey at its finest.

Terrific individual play.

Hard, clean hits.

Up-and-down action.

Very few penalties and power plays.

And magnificent, with a capital “M”, goaltending.

On both ends of the ice.

What can you say about Huet? The man bounced back like a super ball from a horrid performance in Game Four in Chicago.

He made 44 saves, and none was more jaw-dropping than the robbery he committed against the Red Wings’ playoff-scoring mule, Johan Franzen.

With about 20 seconds remaining in regulation, Franzen and Marian Hossa broke down the ice. The puck squirted to Franzen, who had his back to the net. Still, he managed a backhand shot, with Huet on his tummy, sprawled like he was going to make face-first snow angels.

Franzen lifted the puck a few inches off the ice. The net was gaping. A stunning end-of-game series victory seemed certain.

Nuh-uh.

Huet raised his right leg, like one of those horror movie monsters who isn’t quite dead yet, and it was just high enough to block Franzen’s money shot.

The Joe Louis Arena crowd buckled, socked in the gut.

Overtime.

But Osgood, as I said, was just a little bit better.
 


He made fewer saves than the other guy, but that’s what always happens.

When you talk about the netminding world of Chris Osgood, you talk in terms of quality, not quantity.

And the quality of saves in Game Five was very high indeed.

With the way Huet starred for the Blackhawks, if Osgood doesn’t turn in the performance that he did, we’re talking about Game Six. And the Pittsburgh Penguins would continue to fiddle.

There were close to 80 shots on goal last night, and only three goals scored–none of which were the fault of the goalies.

The netminders were TV sets, and the scores were technical difficulties.

The NHL should press last night’s game onto DVDs and mail them to every U.S. citizen.

Free sample!

“Look at this game, and if you still don’t think that hockey is for you, then fair enough. We tried.”

For if the American people don’t like what’s on that disc, then you’ll never win them over.

So now it’s on to the Cup Finals for the Red Wings. Again.

Against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Again.

Oh, and the Penguins’ goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, is, they say, playing some terrific hockey.

They say he’s learned and matured from last year’s experience in the Finals, much like his team allegedly has.

Fleury, they’re already saying, has the goods to rob the Wings of a second consecutive Stanley Cup.

In other words, he, for sure, can outplay Chris Osgood, mano-a-mano.

Yeah, yeah.

Bring it on, kid.

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