There is no measuring this. The distance between winner and loser tonight is wider than any canyon or crater, as vast as space or time. One team forever will be engraved on the Stanley Cup for 2009, and one team never will be. So there’s your distance: between never and forever.
If that weren’t enough to make your knees wobble in Game 7, imagine Chris Osgood. At 36, perhaps no player has as many chips on the table as the Red Wings’ goalie. He has played marvelously throughout the playoffs, and for the six previous finals games has been at least very good and at times incredible. He finishes each contest with the same calculated shrug and even-keeled voice and comments about this being “fun,” no added pressure, what he plays for, etc.
Even so, should Osgood be reading this, I would ask him to stop now, put it down and go romp with the kids or wander around the makeshift rink he built in his large backyard.
Because it’s not a stretch to think that a victory tonight, with a good performance by Osgood, secures him: 1) a fourth Stanley Cup, 2) a Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs, 3) a historic footnote as the goalie who stymied Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and 4) the Hockey Hall of Fame.
And if the Wings lose, he might not get any of that.
How’s that for pressure? Time could be running out
“It’s gonna be fun,” Osgood said of Game 7, after the loss in Pittsburgh. “It’s been a heck of a series.”
And if Ozzie plays lights-out tonight, it is hard to imagine the Wings losing it. He has not surrendered more than one goal to the Penguins in the three home games – and shut them out in Game 5. Marc-Andre Fleury never has played particularly well in Joe Louis Arena, and with the waves of talent the Wings can send down the ice – especially with Pavel Datsyuk back in gear – they are not likely to be blanked.
Still, it’s funny, Wings fans never really think about Osgood as a guy who can stand on his head and virtually win a game by himself. They thought of Dominik Hasek that way. But Dom won two Cups with the Wings; Ozzie is going for his fourth. Tonight would cap a masterpiece.
Or not. If the Wings miss out, if they drop this series, the taste on their lips will be terribly bitter. They were up, 2-0. They clobbered the Pens in Game 5 for a 3-2 lead. Despite their experience, they would be the only team in these finals to drop a home game.
And Osgood would be right to wonder if another chance would come his way. He will be 37 this fall. He struggled through this regular season, had to make adjustments to rejuvenate himself, and with young teams like Chicago and Pittsburgh only getting better, you want to grab the ring while you have a chance.
And then there’s the Hall of Fame thing. It may be silly to debate it at this point, but Osgood never has received the respect that would make him a sure thing. Look at the stars he played with, his critics argue. When did he do it by himself? A resumÃ© worth framing
Well, a victory in this series would silence that. “Absolutely,” Don Cherry, the guru of “Hockey Night in Canada,” told me Wednesday. “Are you kidding? With all those rings, if he steps up? Of course he’s a Hall of Famer. And he will win the MVP of this series.”
But only if he steps up – and the Wings win. If not, the MVP likely goes to Malkin, and Osgood is left with a few shadows. Not here. I am convinced of his Hall of Fame credentials already. But others – outside of Detroit – still will be on the fence. A Conn Smythe and a ring would blow them off.
So there is no measuring this. What hangs in the balance tonight, Game 7, the last hockey game of the season – for all the players, and for Osgood in particular – is simply everything that separates winning from losing in sports, photos that hang on your walls or don’t, magazine covers you keep or throw out, banners or no banners, parade or no parade, a Cup in your hands or your hands dropped and empty.
Whew! Good thing Ozzie plays goalie.
I’d want a mask, too.
Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).