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AS THE RED WINGS ENTERED THEIR 17th straight postseason, the longest active streak in major pro sports, the biggest question they faced had to do with their stability in net, an almost laughable concern considering their roster boasted six-time Vezina Trophy winner Dominik Hasek and two-time Cup winner Chris Osgood. The pair, which had rotated in goal during the regular season to great effect, allowed the fewest goals in the league and backstopped Detroit to a Presidents' Trophy-winning 54-21-7 record.
But after the team named Hasek the playoff starter, some pointed to his age (he turned 43 in January) and his middling .902 save percentage (35th in the league) as potential weaknesses. The Red Wings, however, didn't see it that way. "I think it's a strength that we got two guys," general manager Ken Holland said on the eve of Detroit's first-round series against the Nashville Predators. "We can use Ozzie; we can use Dom. But right now, given Dom's pedigree, given Dom's play for us last year [when he took Detroit to the conference final], he's earned the right."
Though formidable through the first two games of the series, as the Red Wings beat Nashville 3-1 and 4-2 in Detroit, Hasek allowed the momentum his team built in the first 176 minutes of the series to stall in just a matter of seconds—nine, to be exact. With less than four minutes left in Game 3, Predators defenseman Ryan Suter and captain Jason Arnott each beat Hasek with slap shots that effectively cut the series lead in half. "We got caught on our heels a little bit," coach Mike Babcock said.
Despite his allowing back-to-back goals in two straight games—Nashville had tied Game 2 with two goals in 11 seconds before falling 4-2 in Detroit—the Red Wings stuck with Hasek, who had come out of similar hardships in the past. The Predators, though, had another one-two punch to deliver, a pair of early goals in Game 4 separated by 32 seconds. After Hasek let in a third on Nashville's 14th shot with more than half the game remaining, Babcock finally decided to pull the veteran goalie in favor of his slightly less veteran backup.
While Detroit shuffled in net, the Predators were looking surprisingly solid in theirs. Dan Ellis, a 27-year-old rookie making his postseason debut in goal, kept Nashville alive with each of his 240 saves in the first round. Osgood's 13 stops in relief weren't enough to steal Game 4 from Ellis, but his solid play earned him the start in Game 5.
"This is Plan B," Babcock said with the series leveled at 2-2, "but Plan B is Chris Osgood, and I think he won 29 games and had the best goals-against average in the NHL." In fact, the 35-year-old Osgood had won 27 (although his 2.09 GAA was the league's stingiest), but he'd soon make up the difference. He held the Predators scoreless in Game 5 until Nashville tied the score with 44 seconds left. In the extra frame Osgood stopped the one shot he faced; the same couldn't be said for Ellis, who was beaten by Johan Franzen 1:48 into overtime.
With the support of the Red Wings' potent offense, which fired 96 shots at the Predators' goal in the final two games, Osgood shut Nashville out with 20 saves in Game 6 and earned Detroit the wins it needed to deny the upstart Predators the chance to play on.