The calluses kept building, layer upon layer. He would watch as Vernon blew up against the New Jersey Devils in their sweep of the 1995 Cup finals. The next year Osgood went from the euphoria of a 1-0 double-overtime win in Game 7 of the second round against St. Louis to the despair of being knocked out in the semifinals by the Colorado Avalanche. Last year, even though he played 14 more games than Vernon in the regular season and had a better goals-against average and save percentage, he turned into Vernon's valet during the 1997 postseason run, playing just 47 mop-up minutes in two games. Osgood had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup, but there is a difference between being on the Cup and getting first dibs on skating a victory lap with it.
"That's why I was real excited this year, even coming to camp," says Osgood, who saw Vernon, the playoff MVP, traded to San Jose last August for draft picks, reportedly over Bowman's objections. "I knew I would be playing in the post-season." He also knew he would be picked at like a scab.
Osgood's trouble, other than stopping an occasional long-distance shot, is his nickname. Ozzie is fine if you are rooming with Harriet, but put it next to the Dominator (Buffalo's Dominik Hasek) or Godzilla ( Washington's Olaf Kolzig) or Eddie the Eagle ( Dallas's Ed Belfour) and you see the problem. Osgood's 1998 playoff numbers haven't stacked up, either—his 2.31 goals-against average and .911 save percentage at week's end lagged slightly behind those of the other three starting goalies left in the tournament—but if you make a more thorough comparison, Osgood looks good. Before this season Hasek had never won a playoff series, Kolzig had kept his 'Zilla mask next to him on the bench most of the time (he had never played more than 29 games in one season), and Belfour had put up good numbers on good defensive teams but was blitzed by the Pittsburgh Penguins in their sweep of the '92 Cup finals.
Through four games in this year's conference finals Osgood clearly had outplayed Belfour, whose enduring moment in the series had come as a thespian. As the Stars mounted a furious rally that trimmed Detroit's lead to one goal late in Game 3, Belfour ranged to the left of his net to play the puck, was tapped by Martin Lapointe's stick and crumpled in the least convincing performance since the Spice Girls' movie. Referee Terry Gregson ignored the goalie, who scrambled back to his crease just as Lapointe shoveled in an insurance goal.
Osgood's acting also has gotten him in trouble: He once forgot his lines during a sixth-grade skit in Medicine Hat. Osgood says this is the only time he ever succumbed to pressure. Dallas, which outshot the Red Wings by a combined 64-43 in Games 3 and 4, is in no position to argue.
"Maybe I have some things to prove," says Osgood, exasperation creeping into his voice. "But if we win, next year you'll have to ask me different questions. No doubt people will come up with something. 'He's 26 now. Is he losing it?' "