Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood (30). (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Carlos Osorio)
DETROIT - Chris Osgood would rather just play, take off his gear, get stretched out and enjoy some grub.
However, as the No. 1 goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings, doing anything quietly isn't an option. "Everybody makes too big of a deal out of me," Osgood said Thursday, sounding slightly exasperated. "I'm just part of the team."
Despite Osgood's attempts to deflect attention, his play will be pivotal in the Red Wings' quest to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
Detroit's chances improve if Osgood plays like he did last year, showing this season was a fluke. He had a 2.09 goals-against average last season and a league-low 1.55 GAA in the 2008 playoffs.
This season, his GAA ballooned to a career-high 3.09 and there were doubts at times about whether he'd even start the playoffs in net.
Osgood's first shot to show he's still an elite goalie comes Thursday night at home in Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Does it bother him that some hockey analysts are giving the Blue Jackets the edge in net with rookie Steve Mason.
"Who are the people doing it?" Osgood asked.
"Go," Osgood said. "Next one."
Osgood's place in hockey history also brings out the testy side of his personality.
"I'll worry about it when I'm done playing," the 37-year-old Osgood said. "It's not easy to win in this league, otherwise everybody would be doing it. I don't know how many goalies have played here in the last 15 years that I've been here, but I'm still here and I'm still wanted.
"That's what matters most and accounts for more than anything else. I'm a winner. That's all I do."
His 389 career victories put him in a tie for 10th with Dominik Hasek, who retired last year after losing his job to Osgood, and trail only Martin Brodeur and Curtis Joseph among active goalies.
Osgood will likely pass Grant Fuhr and Glenn Hall next season on the all-time list, and he might have a shot at surpassing Tony Esposito, Jacques Plante and Terry Sawchuk before his contract expires in two years.
He's won two Stanley Cups in Detroit as a starting goaltender in 1998 and 2008, and was a backup when the storied franchise won a championship in 1997.
He has franchise records in the playoffs with 52 wins and 12 shutouts and his 62 postseason victories overall trail Joseph by one and Hasek by three.
Osgood's accomplishments seem to make him a Hall of Fame-calibre goalie, but helping the Red Wings hoist the Cup last year didn't do much for naysayers who overlook him in conversations about the game's best between the pipes.
"There's two goalies I know that are playing hockey in the national league that have three Stanley Cups," Detroit coach Mike Babcock bristled. "One's named Brodeur and one is named Osgood. That's it."
Teammate Kirk Maltby chose to expound on the topic.
"His numbers are as good as anybody playing, other than Brodeur, but the hockey world doesn't give him the acknowledgment he deserves," Maltby said. "When he left here, he helped St. Louis and the New York Islanders get in the playoffs. Then, he came back and helped us win a Cup.
"Maybe it's just because Ozzie is just a shy guy, who doesn't really relish trying to be in the spotlight."
The glare on his game will only intensify if Osgood fails to help the second-seeded Red Wings get past the seventh-seeded Blue Jackets with a rookie in net.
Mason had an NHL-high 10 shutouts this season and his 2.29 goals-against average ranked second in the league, lifting Columbus to postseason play for the first time in the franchise's eight-season history.
"It's about time this team had some success," the 20-year-old Mason said. "The city has waited a long time for it.
"Everybody should be proud of what we accomplished, but nobody is going to be satisfied with just making the playoffs. We want to make it to the Stanley Cup final."
While some might scoff at Mason's bravado, his coach embraces it.
"I think our whole franchise is under the radar," Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Teams still think we're goalie only. We're more than that."
Blue Jackets star Rick Nash, though, isn't sure he would still be playing if Mason didn't emerge as a star after Pascal Leclaire had a season-ending injury.
"He's the backbone of our team right now," Nash said. "Pascal Leclaire was a great goalie as well, but he got injured and Steve took full advantage of his opportunity.
"He keeps everybody calm and looks like a veteran."