IT’S A TRAP

First of all, no more 1 o’clock games on Sunday, OK? Both teams looked half asleep when it started. There’s a reason they call it “Hockey Night” in Canada, not “Hockey Brunch.” You don’t play the game with a bagel and a Sunday paper.

Secondly, no more talk about the “new” NHL. So far in this Red Wings-Oilers series, it’s the NHL playoffs as it always has been the NHL playoffs: funny-looking goals, trap defenses and a goalie you barely heard of suddenly becoming the story.

You couldn’t pick Edmonton’s Dwayne Roloson out of a lineup. I was standing next to him for a minute in the locker room before I knew it was him. The journeyman only joined the Oilers last month, a day before the trade deadline. But in the spirit of goalies past (think Jean-Sebastien Giguere?), he is drawing a growing crowd of media as he stops a growing number of Detroit shots.

“Rolly,” a reporter said (I guess that’s what folks call him), “you seem so calm out there.”

“That’s just how I deal with it,” he said. “I’m always pretty calm.”

He said it calmly. Actually, he said it like a robot. Which scares me. Because he’s starting to play like one.

Roloson in two games now has faced 92 Detroit shots and has stopped 87 of them. And if the two that got past him Sunday afternoon were any freakier, he could sell them to a circus. The first was a triple-ricochet that went off an Edmonton defenseman’s skate, then off Jason Williams’ skate, then off the back of Roloson’s skate – and in the net. He never saw it.

The second flipped off his head and landed behind him – right in front of a sneaky Henrik Zetterberg, who knocked it in before Roloson could spin around – like someone pinning a “kick me” sign on your butt.

And that was it for Detroit productivity. The rest of the shots – including four by Nicklas Lidstrom, four by Tomas Holmstrom, four by Kris Draper and three apiece by Zetterberg, Robert Lang and Johan Franzen – were all denied by “Rolly.”

Meanwhile, on the other end, Manny Legace was having a less-than-great night.

Oops. I should say brunch.

If not for that minute …

“We should have gone in” to the second intermission “up, 2-1, instead of down, 3-2,” Legace said afterward. “It was my fault.”

He was referring to a 57-second stretch late in the second period in which the Wings lost the lead – and the game – on two Oilers goals. The first was a bouncer “that I just got lackadaisical on,” Legace said. “I was waiting for it to settle and the guy (Fernando Pisani) came out of nowhere and whacked it in. I should have corralled it. It was a dumb, air-headed play by me.”

The next goal – the game-winner – was a hard, rising slapper from Brad Winchester “that I should have stopped. I didn’t pick it up until late. I just missed it … I gotta make saves. Simple as that.”

Now, Legace has a tendency to be too hard on himself. But his words are not inaccurate. He has to make saves. Especially when the other guy is. Especially when the Wings’ celebrated offense is doing its traditional playoff dry-spell thing.

Just because the Wings haven’t played a postseason in two years, they can’t forget how quickly a team that you’re supposed to beat suddenly can turn the tables.

Offensive stars starting slowly? A team from another time zone pulling an upset? Goaltending issues – theirs, ours?

This all sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

And it’s off to Edmonton …

Which is why you shouldn’t panic. Not yet. “No one expected us to win all four games” at home, Brendan Shanahan correctly said after this loss, and so they have to win on the road at some point.

But Wings fans can’t help it. They see the Oilers using an annoying trap, clogging the middle of the ice, disrupting the Detroit rhythm like kids jumping up and down until the phonograph needle skips and – well, we’ve seen this all before.

So have the Detroit players.

The best news is that this team knows how to win on the road. You could argue that the road is actually a better place for the Wings, especially with the hometown expectations that can hang like a smothering blanket at Joe Louis Arena.

But we also have learned this. The energy you expend on teams you’re supposed to beat will come back to haunt you against teams that are stronger. It would be nice to see the Wings swing their lofty weight, knock down a lower seed and keep them down for four victories. You don’t get any points for a slow kill.

Instead, it’s another “one game apiece and let’s hit the road” thing. No reason to be angry. No reason to shake your head. But the Wings are putting a lot of pucks on this unlikely goaltender, and the more he turns away, the more he gets calm.

And the more we get nervous.

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). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.

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