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Osgood Keeps Eye On Stanley

As the teams lined up for the traditional handshake at center ice, Chris Osgood paused for a word with Dallas forward Jamie Langenbrunner. What did the Detroit goalie say?

"I said, `We made it go another game,' " Osgood said. "He got a chuckle out of that."

Still, it was Osgood who got the last laugh. Despite giving up improbable and costly goals to Al MacInnis during the second round and Langenbrunner in the Western Conference finals, Osgood has the Red Wings back in the Stanley Cup finals.

Detroit, bidding to become the first team to repeat as Cup champion since the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992, opens the best-of-7 finals Tuesday night against the Eastern Conference champion Washington Capitals at Joe Louis Arena. It's the third time in four years Detroit has played in the finals.

"I thought Osgood was a major reason that Detroit was able to hold us down offensively," Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock said after the Wings eliminated the Stars in six games. "I think he played well enough to give them a chance to win every game."

But it wasn't easy. For some reason, almost nothing comes easy for Osgood.

In the second round, MacInnis somehow got a 90-foot bouncer past Osgood to tie a game. It took the Red Wings two overtimes to finally win that one. And in Game 5 of the Dallas series, Langenbrunner's 70-foot shot trickled past Osgood's stick 46 seconds into overtime, forcing the sixth game.

It might have been enough to unravel Osgood a couple of years ago. But not now. Osgood never lost his concentration and proved it by shutting out Dallas 2-0 in Game 6, just as he did in Game 1.

"I've been doing the same thing for two and one half rounds now," Osgood said. "I've been beat twice from the red line. Who cares now, though?

"I'll play the way I want to. I'm not going to let two singular plays put a mark on what I'm doing. It's ridiculous. I feel great out there."

Osgood's bravado might be masking a tiny bit of hurt. He was the Red Wings' starting goalie last year, too. But when playoff time rolled around, coach Scotty Bowman turned to Mike Vernon.

So it was Vernon, not Osgood, who went 16-4 through the playoffs. And even though his name is on the Stanley Cup, Osgood no doubt feels in his heart that he had little do with the triumph.

Vernon was traded during the offseason, however, leaving the job to Osgood alone. Bowman clearly felt the time was right. And he still does, despite Osgood's occasional soft goal.

"We had a lot of confidence going in, and unfortunately things happen," said Bowman, who can tie his mentor Toe Blake with an eighth Cup championship. "With our team, we have a little adversity and it seems to spur us on and things seem to spread."

His teammates expresnothing but confidence in Osgood. Most of the Red Wings have said all along they felt Osgood was being unfairly picked on by some Detroit fans and media.

And the players were backing him, even when he was letting in long shots.

"He played a great game in Game 5," Red Wings' captain Steve Yzerman said. "The overtime goal, it wasn't a bad goal. It was a fluky goal. He played great, and he knows when he plays well and when he doesn't play well.

"Obviously, he wasn't happy with the goal. But he's a tough guy and a strong competitor. We don't have any doubts about the guy. He's proven himself to us."

It has helped, too, that the Red Wings have played solid defense in front of Osgood. The defense was especially good in the conference finals, holding Dallas to 1-for-30 on the power play.

"We played great in front of him and he played great behind us," feisty forward Martin Lapointe said. "That's all we need."

Detroit will be without veteran forward Brent Gilchrist in the finals, however. Bowman said Saturday that Gilchrist has been nursing a groin injury for weeks.

"The only thing that's going to cure it is rest," Bowman said. "He played on nothing but guts against Dallas, because he wanted to play against those guys."

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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