Old Wings Reach Chi-Kids New Tricks

You can’t blame the Red Wings for falling behind in the opening minutes Sunday afternoon. It takes awhile to put your teeth in, slide the orthopedic shoes on and get the walker out of the closet.

“With our legs, because we’re so old, like everybody says, you gotta loosen up in the morning,” deadpanned Chris Osgood. “And we didn’t get a chance to do that.”

He chuckled.

Then he put in his hearing aid.

No. That part’s not true. But you can’t blame Ozzie for his tongue-in-dentures jab. People have been taking about the Wings and the Blackhawks as if Chicago is Zac Efron and Detroit is Bob Hope.

What transpired in the first 10 minutes of the Western Conference finals Sunday may have looked like a Porsche against a Pinto, but it wasn’t in the skates; it was in the heads. The Wings began the series still seeing the Anaheim Ducks. How long did it take to get that grinding, slogging seven-game series off their brains?

“It took at least until Dan Cleary’s goal,” 8:23 into the first period, Mike Babcock admitted. “As a coach, I knew that was going to happen. As much as you talk about it, as much as you try and prepare for it, I knew that was going to be the case.

“I just didn’t feel the electricity of the last series at the start of this one. … I don’t think, in the first 10 minutes, we were able to engage at that level.”

And then the Geritol kicked in.

Old blood scores big goals

Cleary, who is all of 30, scored on one skate to tie the game. Johan Franzen, all of 29, scored a beautiful wraparound to pull ahead. Mikael Samuelsson, a Methuselah at 32, gave Detroit the lead for good. Henrik Zetterberg, barely shaving at 28, added an empty-netter.

Hey, they may not be the Disney kids, but they’re not exactly the Golden Girls, either. The Wings initially were getting whizzed by Chicago kids like Patrick Kane (age 20) and Jonathan Toews (21). But only temporarily.

“We said to ourselves, We gotta start skating here or we’re gonna be in trouble,’ ” Osgood said. “There’s no coasting, there’s no gliding. … You gotta skate the whole time, backcheck and forecheck.  I don’t think it scared us. But it got our attention.”

So they adjusted. And they won.

Let’s repeat that: They adjusted. And they won. I’m not sure people realize how impressive that is. Here was a game that was ripe for the picking. The opener against a young and rested team after a grueling seven-game series? Good teams lose these games all the times in the playoffs, no matter what the sport.

The Wings began Sunday as if they’d do the same; they were a step behind, looking around, their timing off. But they adjusted by the end of the first period, dominated in the second, and straight-armed their way to a 5-2 victory in the third.

All that, while wearing bifocals.

Ozzie outdid himself

Much of the credit goes to Osgood (a senior citizen at 36), who played one of his most active and versatile games of the playoffs. He faced 32 shots. Anaheim never fired that many in a game, except in the triple-overtime affair. Ozzie was strong against the Blackhawks on Sunday, denying a four-on-two break, hard shots from Duncan Keith and Troy Brouwer and several close-enough-to-smell-his-breath chances from Toews.

The Wings, meanwhile, played smart without the puck, made good passes through the neutral zone and enjoyed great individual goals – once more – from players other than their biggest offensive stars. Pavel Datsyuk and Marian Hossa again went pointless (Hossa seemed particularly out of sync), but it didn’t matter.

Depth wins. Experience wins. Of course, experience can be another word for age.

“They’re a little younger, but we’re ready for it,” Osgood said. “We’ve played tons of series against every type of team. … We don’t panic. We don’t go into a shell. We make adjustments as we go along.”

And, having avoided a dangerous pitfall, they go along to Game 2, which, unlike Sunday’s afternoon affair, will be played at 7:30 Tuesday night. The Wings were no doubt happy to hear that.

They can catch the Early Bird Special.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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