May 20, 2009 at 10:42 am

Bob Wojnowski

Osgood made the difference for Wings in this scrum

Wings goalie Chris Osgood stops a shot by Jonathan Toews in the second period on the way to 37 saves. (Dale G. Young/The Detroit News)

Detroit

The Red Wings needed every single clutch play in this one, right down to the last one, which will be duly recorded as a terrific shot by Mikael Samuelsson.

The Wings have become darn good finishers, with Samuelsson beating the Blackhawks in overtime, 3-2, Tuesday night. Just like that, the Wings have a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals, but not necessarily a commanding 2-0 lead.

For all their great finishing, the Wings weren't so hot starting. And long before the last play, goalie Chris Osgood made the clutch plays, save after save. The Blackhawks came out skating and soaring, and it's about time we made this declaration: Osgood bailed his teammates out.

The Blackhawks had 39 shots, and their frisky skaters peppered constantly. But in the end, the Wings made the Blackhawks pay for yet another turnover, which led to Valtteri Filppula setting up Samuelsson with a perfect pass.

The crowd erupted and all was good in Hockeytown. Actually, all was Osgood.

Very (Os)good

In a game in which the Blackhawks matched the Wings shot for shot, the difference was in net. It's not that Nikolai Khabibulin was bad for the Blackhawks. It's that, tested as severely as he has been all playoffs, Osgood was excellent.

Afterward, he reacted as he generally does, as the calmest guy in an exciting game.

"I pride myself on that, on making the right save at the right time," Osgood, 36, said. "I'm seeing the puck good, I'm battling. I'm not surprised, but everybody else always seems to be. I've played in a lot of games. I don't think it's by fluke anymore."

It hasn't been by fluke for a long time, no matter how Osgood is perceived by others. This was a stirring test, and the truth is, it was more stirring than the Wings liked. They looked weary at times, and the extra day off before Game 3 Friday night in Chicago could be huge.

You wonder if the Wings will need Osgood more and more because the Blackhawks are swift, and it seems like they try to score on every shift. The Wings defense made odd mistakes but so did the Blackhawks, and their last gaffe ended up in the net.

Like it or not, this series is on. Once again, the Blackhawks came out like kids at recess, flipping so many pucks at the Detroit net, Osgood must have felt like he was stuck in a game of dodgeball. This is what Chicago did in Game 1, and the Wings recovered. After two games, it's a pattern, and the Wings defense must tighten.

The score was 1-1 after the first period but the difference was Osgood. The Blackhawks fired an unheard-of 19 shots in the period, and during a parade of Detroit penalties, Chicago was ultra-dangerous.

Osgood was ultra-busy, and ultra-cool. Heck, he'd go entire games without facing 19 shots. But this is Chicago's game, to run and gun (or in hockey terms -- skate and strafe).

"I just gotta be on my toes the whole game," Osgood said. "It was a fun game, and they gave us everything we could handle. They come at you from every angle, and they're so fast."

It's a dangerous way to play, but with a few of the Wings' best fighting goal slumps (Pavel? Hello? Pavel?), the Blackhawks had a shot. And another shot. And woo-wee, another shot.

Perfect timing

Osgood never gets enough acclaim for stealing games, but folks, he stole tons of pucks in this one. And while the fans always honor their goalie by chanting his name, few outside Detroit bother to say much. Just look at the statistics coming into the game -- Osgood's 2.06 goals-against average was by far the best of the four goalies left in the playoffs.

For a goalie, it's about timing, when to go down, when to challenge a shooter. And Osgood's timing has been brilliant.

After the Blackhawks took a 1-0 lead on Jonathan Toews' power-play goal, which caromed off defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, trouble could've mounted. But Osgood was there, precisely when needed. Right after Brian Rafalski tied it, Osgood snatched a shot by Martin Havlat, then followed with a quick glove save on Patrick Kane.

"He was big again," Dan Cleary said. "Everyone keeps talking about our goaltending, but Ozzie is always there at the end of the day. He's been great for us."

This was entertaining hockey, pretty much as billed. Toews and Kane started getting loose, which is a credit to the speedy youngsters, and a concern for the Wings.

This is a strange new series, but there is strange, and then there are constants. Cleary is there all the time now, and he made no mistake on a breakaway after stealing a wayward pass and putting the Wings ahead, 2-1

And then there's the most constant of constants, the guy in net, the one who keeps rolling, whether everyone notices or not. Osgood was clutch, which is key, because it looks like he'll be needed more and more.

bob.wojnowski@detnews.com">bob.wojnowski@detnews.com

Goalie Chris Osgood makes a save in the first period. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Mikael Samuelsson, right, who scored the game's winning goal, ... (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)