BIG NAMES MUST LIFT THE WINGS UP NOW

In the sixth period of a three-period sport, anything can happen. Players are dog tired. Eyes are blurring. Legs are as heavy as soaked trees. The body doesn’t want to bend. Going over the boards feels like someone raised the wall a few feet.

When hockey reaches these marathon distances – over 100 minutes – the normal becomes a mirage, and strange things happen. So it should surprise no one that although the Red Wings outshot and outhustled the Anaheim Ducks for the last three full periods of Sunday’s exhausting Game 2, it was the Ducks who won it, in triple overtime, with the most pedestrian of plays, a quick wrist shot by Todd Marchant that went over Chris Osgood’s reach and into the net.

That’s going to happen in sudden death. What the Wings should be concerned with is less the how than the who, and less the end than the beginning and middle. In a better world, the Wings never see this overtime.

Detroit has two big stars who have gone dry: Pavel Datsyuk, a candidate for MVP of the league, and Marian Hossa, who signed in Motown for the sole purpose of winning a ring. They were the teams’ No. 1 and No. 3 point scorers during the season.

Neither man has a goal this series. Each has scored on just one night of the playoffs so far – and we’re in the second round. Hockey is about many things, that’s true, and you contribute many ways, that’s true. But they keep score by goals. And sooner or later, your stars must light it up if you want that ring.

“There’s no question about it,” agreed coach Mike Babcock after the 4-3 loss, “your best players gotta be your best players.”

Like he said. Talk about big players

Especially since Detroit is facing a tough Anaheim team that has tied this series precisely because of its execution of this principle. There is one marquee line on the Ducks: Bobby Ryan, 6-feet-2; Corey Perry, 6-feet-3; and Ryan Getzlaf, 6-feet-4; and one star defenseman, Chris Pronger, 6-feet-6. Facing them is like entering the redwood forest.

But they are playing as big as the numbers suggest. Getzlaf, who had a goal and two assists Sunday, has been in on all but one of the Ducks’ goals so far this series. His line seems to take one breath on the bench then jump back out there. Pronger had another goal Sunday.

“They’re good,” Henrik Zetterberg admitted.

Because they have to be. The talent drop-off is significant after those guys. If they’re not great, Anaheim is home by now.

But the Wings are so deep, they often believe they can win from anywhere. That is good and true much of the time. But not in the playoffs. Not against a great team.

“We have to get scoring from all four lines,” Nicklas Lidstrom said.

The shame of Sunday is that the Wings were so close. Datsyuk had some masterful moves late, and some feeds that on another day could have meant a red light. Hossa finished with nine shots, second highest on the team.

If they score, the pressure is off them, and the worry is on for Anaheim.

Instead, neither had a point. And the Ducks will ride their emotion all the way home to Disneyland, while a tired Wings group will have to re-energize for a West Coast time zone performance Tuesday night. A look at the goaltenders

Now. A word about Osgood. Whenever the Wings lose in overtime, fans worry about his psyche. It’s too early for that. Anyhow, he should have been dressed and gone before Marchant ever got a chance at the game-winner. Ozzie stopped 42 of 46 shots.

His counterpart, however, Jonas Hiller, stopped 59 of 62. And this was only his second overtime game – ever! You don’t want to make a star out of the other goalie, because, well, like I said, stars are what usually win championships.

“It was a hard game, they got lucky at the end, and now we go on,” Hossa said, summing it up.

Maybe. But just as there is a tiny difference between hitting the post and hitting pay dirt, there is a similar distance between expecting anyone to put it in, and expecting your best guys to do it. Sooner or later in this sure-to-go-six-or-seven-game series, Datsyuk and Hossa will have to light that light. Or it’s going to get dark at the rink faster than we thought.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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