Detroit — Chris Osgood was involved in a lot of playoffs during his distinguished playing career.
The goalie won Stanley Cups and has been involved in epic, legendary hockey games.
He’s watched many series as a fan and broadcaster, too, and marveled at the intensity and excitement of the NHL playoffs.
But this year, this will be different.
Osgood, the former Wings’ goaltender and current Fox Sports Detroit analyst, is as intrigued as anyone about the upcoming NHL playoffs, which begin Saturday with the best-of-five play-in round.
“It’s going to be a completely different atmosphere, and it’s going to be up to the players and coaching staffs to bring their raw emotions,” said Osgood, of the empty, no fans in the stands arenas in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto. “When these teams get into it and get accustomed to the atmosphere they’re playing in, it’s going to be intense, and they will want to win, they’re not there to just dip their toes into the water and leave.
“The Stanley Cup is available to win and for a player, regardless of format, to get your name on the Cup, that’s something special.”
This will be a unique NHL playoffs, thanks to the pandemic.
With the regular season halted March 12, the NHL decided on bringing back 24 teams, the top 12 in both the Eastern (in Toronto) and Western (in Edmonton) conferences in two hub cities, and let them conclude the playoffs over the next two months.
There will be no fans in the stands. There could be as many as three games per day in the arenas early on. And those 12 teams per conference will be staying at two different hotels in those hub cities, so they’re bound to be running into potential, or current, playoff opponents.
It’s all so weird, in the weirdest of years.
The Detroit News talked with Osgood about the upcoming playoffs and the Red Wings.
Question: Chris, I can’t imagine you’ve ever played in an NHL game in an empty rink, and especially a playoff game. How strange do you think it’ll be for these guys competing in the playoffs?
Answer: It would be real difficult (to play in that situation). You talk about series in the past, and one of the main things was the atmosphere in the rink and how difficult it was to win a game in a place like Chicago, or in Colorado, with the fans were packed on top of you.
I remember all the teams coming into Joe Louis Arena and those opposing teams saying how difficult it was to play in there because the fans were right on top of you.
That’s what makes it all different for these playoffs. For me, who is going to win is the team who is going to adjust to all that and bring up their emotions to where they need to be, the fastest.
Q: Especially this time of year, during the playoffs, Chris, the fans, the home rinks, can be such a huge momentum builder for a team, can’t it?
A: It’s huge. Even like in exhibition games or scrimmages in the preseason, you put fans in the stands and the game is amped up immediately.
I don’t think players ever underestimated how important fans were. But now they’ll realize how much they are missed and how important of a role fans are in sports.
You think about an overtime goal being scored now. It’s going to be a lot different than it would be normally.
Q: Still, could some teams benefit from these conditions? And on the flip side, this could hurt others?
A: You think of a team like Montreal, if they don’t play well, its fans might start to get on them early. But now, it might be easier for them and they don’t have to worry if they get off to a bad start and maybe just ride through it and play.
Teams like Arizona and Florida, they’re used to playing to quiet crowds, so this may not bother them.
But a team like Vegas, it uses the crowds and feeds off the crowd, and now they don’t have it (fans’ energy) anymore, it might be at a disadvantage. Or a Nashville, a team that is used to a raucous atmosphere, now they don’t have that and it could be a huge difference.
Q: Do we just forget about the approximately 66 games that were played this season? Do they matter at all at this point, or this thing completely up in the air?
A: For the veteran guys, they’ve been out long enough, it’s a fresh start, a fresh start for everybody, really. A young team, they’re hungry and they just want to go out and play and fly around. The break isn’t going to affect them as much. They might have a bit of an advantage.
The veteran teams, if they fall behind early, they might struggle.
Q: All right Chris, I’m not going to pin you down on a team, but who do like in this tournament?
A: I like Edmonton because they’re younger and they’re fast and they have a power play and penalty kill that was No. 1 and No. 2 (respectively), and if that carries over (into the playoffs), then look out. I just think they’re young and hungry and you’d think they are a team that just doesn’t need any more draft picks.
I like Boston, too. There’s no one player that has to stand out for them to win. If (Brad Marchand) struggles at the start, they still have other players to pick up the slack and then, just the way they play as a team.
Q: I have to ask you about the Red Wings, though their next game is still months away. What did you think about the draft lottery disappointment (dropping to fourth in the lottery)?
A: There’s some good players out there, still. You obviously wanted the first overall pick, and now you go three consecutive years falling pretty substantially down the draft. This one hurts, but in the end, there are plenty of first overall picks that haven’t panned out, so you never know. They’ll get a good player (at four) and they’ve done their due diligence on these players.
Q: Is this long stretch between how last season ended and whenever the next season begins, hurt the Wings?
A: You know, when we do get fired up again, they’ll be one team that will benefit from the break. They needed it. The way last season went, it will be long forgotten and it will be a completely fresh start.
Q: What do you think of the roster, at least as it looks today?
A: I don’t think they’re as bad a team as their record stands right now (17-49-5). Now, hopefully, some of the young (junior) players get a chance to play somewhere, but they have a lot of good, young players and they need two or three of them to step their games up and give guys like (Dylan) Larkin, (Anthony) Mantha, and (Tyler) Bertuzzi some support.
You think of that (Larkin) line, it’s established as one of the best lines in hockey right now. Now, you still don’t have that superstar scorer, but you have a lot of good young players coming up, and a guy like (defenseman Filip) Hronek, he’s the type of guy if he was on a really good team, we’d be talking about him (like good young defensemen on playoff teams).
You have to forget about their record and look at each player and see where they’re at. Then it’s up to the coaching staff to put it all together and play better than they did.