MASON IS TALLER, BUT OSGOOD GETS IT DONE

Let’s face it. The guy is a tree. I mean, who makes goalies this big? Steve Mason standing by the net looks like a giraffe standing by a Volkswagen. Honestly, when the game’s over, you expect him to carry the thing home under his arm.

So how do you solve a goalie like that? Easy. The same way you solve a redwood. You keep chopping. You come at it from all angles.

And if your power tools aren’t working, you borrow someone else’s.

So here were the Red Wings, in their playoff opener against Mason, the 6-foot-4 rookie sensation, and his new-to-the-postseason Columbus Blue Jackets, and they were coming at The Big Fella with the traditional stuff, slap shots, wrist shots, breakaways – and nothing worked.

Fourteen shots, no results. To top it off, poor Chris Osgood – whom Mason could refer to as “Dudley Moore”- was getting peppered with power plays: a five-on-three, two five-on-fours, a four-on-three.

But the Wings didn’t just arrive at this rodeo. They know postseason. So Ozzie did what he knows he can do – even if everyone else seems to doubt it – and his teammates came out for the second period Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena, pulled their sticks back and yelled, “Timber!” Finding a way to score

First came a beautiful feed from Valtteri Filppula to a streaking Jiri Hudler. He beat Mason low – but then, everything is kind of low for him.

Less than four minutes later, Jonathan Ericsson fired a shot that went off a Columbus stick and a Columbus glove and over Mason’s shoulder.

And less than a minute later, Niklas Kronwall careened a puck off a Columbus player’s thigh past a kneeling Mason.

Timber! Game over. A stick? A glove? A thigh? Well. As I said, if your tools aren’t working, borrow the other guy’s.

“We’ll take those goals,” said Johan Franzen, who added one more to cap the 4-1 victory. “The important thing is to keep firing the puck in there.”

“He’s not the only big goalie,” Hudler added.

Of course, to Hudler, a lot of them look big.

That’s because he is the same size as Osgood, both men listed at 5-feet-10, a half-foot shorter than the celebrated Mason. You would think, given that the net opening is the same for both teams, this would be a huge disadvantage. But scoring in hockey is about so much more than height. It’s about sight lines, blocking, deflections, pulling the goalie sideways.

Also experience.

And Ozzie – 16 years older and three Stanley Cups richer – has, uh, slightly more.

So on a night when all the buzz was about Mason and his incredible rookie season, Osgood, with his throwback cage mask, was the star of the game, stopping 20 of 21 shots and looking every bit like the goalie from last year’s championship run.

Remember him? The short, blond one? The right setup for Ozzie

I waited for Mason after the game. Once showered and dressed in a gray suit, the 20-year-old looked like a high school basketball recruit. It’s amazing to think he may win the NHL’s awards for best rookie and best goaltender. He looks as if he’d have to ask his mom if he could attend the ceremonies.

“Obviously, the level of play goes up,” he said quietly of his first playoff game. “I didn’t feel any extra nerves.”

Of the deflected goals, he said, “We have to deal with those bounces.”

Of the Detroit fans, he said, “They’re a pretty electric bunch. It’s fun to play here.”

He wasn’t smiling.

And he walked down the tunnel.

Ah, well. The kid will have more chances. Meanwhile, fans around here are happy Detroit didn’t come out sleepy or fat, as some defending champions do. And, in a strange way, it may be good that Ozzie is the underhyped goaltender in this series, that he must once again disprove doubters. He seems to grow in stature whenever that happens. Maybe not to 6-feet-4.

But then, as Game 1 proved, size isn’t everything.

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 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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