OSGOOD ONLY LAST MAN IN BAD LINE OF DEFENSE

The evening was summed up best by the guy who returned to his seat with a befuddled expression.

“BLEEPITY BLEEP!” he yelled. “I missed two goals going to the bathroom!”

And he was one of the fast ones.

Ready, aim, fire. That wasn’t hockey in the second period Friday night, that was a video game. And Chris Osgood was the spaceship trying to duck the missiles. How’d he fare? Not so good. Seven goals? A fisherman’s net doesn’t fill that quickly.

Here was Jeremy Roenick, playing pickpocket all night, stealing a puck from Larry Murphy and charging Osgood like a buffalo. Ready, aim, fire. The puck hit Osgood and dribbled though.

Minutes later, Roenick again stole a pass — a bad, lazy one from Dmitri Mironov — and he was off to the races once more on the Red Wings goalie, who took a fake, went down badly, and couldn’t even watch as Roenick’s shot flew in cleanly.

In between, Osgood got tangled with teammate Darren McCarty, both went down, and Keith Tkachuk swatted in a Roenick rebound, something he had done in the first period as well.

And I almost forgot, Rick Tocchet’s fast-breaking shot that came nine minutes earlier.

This, I should remind you, all happened in one period.

No wonder Wings fans don’t go to the bathroom.

Ready, aim, fire. Seven goals? Did the Wings really allow seven goals — their highest surrender all season? It’s true. Detroit hung six on Phoenix Wednesday night, and got one-upped Friday, 7-4, in a series that goes to Phoenix now, tied 1-1.

“We have to play tighter,” said Wings captain Steve Yzerman. That’s an understatement. This game was looser than a rapper’s jeans.

Don’t think about Vernie

Now, I know what Wings watchers are saying — and more important, what they’re not saying. They’re saying, “Is Ozzie OK?”

What they’re not saying is, “Mike Vernon never allowed seven goals in last year’s playoffs.”

But they’re thinking it.

Think again. Yes, it’s true, Phoenix is a first-round opponent that never scored more than four goals on the Wings this season. And yes, it’s true, giving up seven in a playoff game isn’t likely to make Osgood’s highlight reel.

But this is also true: Goaltending is the last line of defense. And I am putting it mildly when I say the Wings’ first few lines Friday were as wavy as TV reception on Pluto.

Consider this: Roenick’s two breakaways came when the Wings were on the power play. And several of Phoenix’s other scores really weren’t Osgood’s fault. The first goal, a blast by Mike Gartner, came on a Coyotes power play, and Osgood was screened.

And goal No. 7 — I think it was No. 7, my calculator broke — was a two-on-one passing exercise between Dallas Drake and Tocchet that left Mironov looking like a statue. Osgood had no chance.

So when you take those away, you have maybe three goals that Osgood should have stopped, two that a miracle worker might have stopped, and two that even a miracle worker would say, “Hey, whadya want from ME?”

“We hung Ozzie out to dry,” said McCarty, sighing. “It’s not fair. He’s got breakaways on him, or a 50-goal scorer all alone in front of him. It’s our fault. And when he finally does make a save, you hear the fans clap sarcastically. That’s not right.”

Not that there were many fans left. By the third period, I thought I was looking at a folding-chair convention.

Don’t worry about Ozzie

Now, maybe you worry a loss like this rattles Osgood — who’ll be under the microscope all postseason. I don’t know. When he finally emerged from the dressing room Friday night, he did not seem shaken, stirred or rattled.

“The second period didn’t exactly go the way I wanted,” he admitted.

Right. And that last election didn’t exactly go the way Bob Dole wanted, either.

“How many of those goals do you think you would have stopped on another night?”

He thought for a moment. “Two?” he said.

That’s as many as his coach, Scotty Bowman, suggested. And had there only been those two, the Wings would have won.

“I still feel angry I let Roenick score two breakaways,” Osgood said. This is a bit like the weatherman saying he’s upset he allowed two rainstorms over the weekend.

You can only blame the goalie so much. Yes, this was certainly a test for Osgood — and how he handles it will be a test of his playoff mettle. But the fact is, if the Wings don’t play better defense than that, they won’t last another round. You can’t hand over the puck. You can’t let guys get behind you. You can’t take a breath, not even against a first-round opponent.

So off they go to Phoenix. And if Wednesday night’s victory was playoff fever for Wings fans, then Friday was playoff flu.

On the other hand, remember this: Last year, in the first round, the Wings lost Game 4 to St. Louis, 4-0, and the series was tied at two games apiece.

If anyone thought this was going to be easy and fast, they haven’t been paying attention.

“Maybe if I played the whole game on my head I could have stopped all seven,” Osgood said.

I don’t know about that. But upside down is the only way this game would have looked good in Detroit.

To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.

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