BECAUSE A flipping puck came off Chris Osgood the wrong way, because that puck wound up in the net, because the Red Wings went from a lead to a tie, a tie to overtime, overtime to a breakout, and a breakout to an Avalanche goal that ended Game 4 — because of that, explanations abound.

“You know,” someone says, studying the sad state of affairs, “we should have seen this coming. The Red Wings need points from their superstars, not their second-line people. Where’s Steve Yzerman? Where’s Brendan Shanahan? Where’s Nick Lidstrom? You can’t rely on the Tomas Holmstroms to get it done.”

“You know,” someone adds, “we should have seen this coming. The Wings are old. They’re not holding up well. Larry Murphy looks like he’s in quicksand out there. Chris Chelios, let’s face it, has been a bust in the playoffs since the Wings got him. Experience is nice, but young legs and strong bodies win games.”

“You know,” someone else chimes in, “let’s be honest. Osgood is terrific, but he’s not Patrick Roy. Their guy is just better. He stops everything. He never lets in cheap ones. He might have even stopped that two-on-one that beat Ozzie in Game 4. Goaltending wins games, and they just have the better goaltending.”

“You know,” another voice adds, “I hate to say it, but I think the Wings are being outcoached. Scotty Bowman may be a genius, but his breaking up the Yzerman-Shanahan line has only sunk both of them. Meanwhile, Bob Hartley made some terrific moves. He adjusted his team seamlessly without Ray Bourque. Maybe he has Scotty’s number.”

“You know,” comes another voice, “it’s bigger than that. The whole Avalanche team has the Red Wings’ number. Who cares about the regular season? The fact is, the Avs have beaten the Wings seven of the last eight playoff games. How did we ever think they were going to win?”

On the other hand . . .

That sound familiar? OK. Now. A parallel universe. Wednesday night. Game 4. Same shot at Osgood. Only this time, instead of the puck dropping weirdly near his skate and getting shoved in by Dave Andreychuk, Ozzie swipes the puck away. The Avs are denied. The Joe Louis Arena crowd roars as the clock ticks off. Colorado, desperate to score, presses too hard. The Wings, confidence swelling, tighten the defense for the last four minutes.

Game over. Wings win. Series tied.

A new set of theories suddenly pops up. They are remarkably related to the ones we’re hearing today — only slightly different.

“You know,” someone says, “you gotta hand it to those Wings. Anytime they get in a hole, their unity bails them out. They don’t need Yzerman or Shanahan to score. Everyone contributes. It’s a real team.”

“You know,” another voice says, “you’re right. Experience is what counts. Guys like Larry Murphy, Chris Chelios, proven playoff leaders, they’re the guys who keep the team calm and get it done. The Avs may be younger, but they have a few things to learn about winning championships.”

“You know,” someone else says, “I think we need to say it: Chris Osgood is outplaying Patrick Roy. Roy may have the reputation, but Ozzie is keeping all those big shots away. Peter Forsberg? Joe Sakic? No problem. He’s getting it done.”

“You know,” someone else says, “thank goodness for Scotty Bowman. He benches Slava Kozlov, then brings him back and he scores a goal. He puts Doug Brown back with Sergei Fedorov and Holmstrom and they’re like greased lightning. That’s why he’s a genius. He’s outcoaching Hartley.”

“You know,” someone else says, “the Wings have taken the Avs’ best shot. They beat ’em so many times in the regular season, and they’re on a roll now. I think they’re gonna win.”

Tonight’s the night, right?

Funny, isn’t it? One little goal, one funny bounce, and everyone goes from being so sure of one thing to being so sure of another.

So let me spell out what happens next. If Detroit wins Game 5, tonight, here’s the wisdom you can expect to hear:

“The Wings have the heart of a champion. They won’t go down. Now the pressure is on Colorado.”

“The Wings just needed a wake-up call. They went to Colorado and won, and now they know they can do it again in Game 7.”

“That’s what veteran leadership does for you. Guys like Stevie, Shanny, Cheli, Murph, they’ve seen it all. Nothing rattles them.”

“The Avs aren’t the same team without a healthy Ray Bourque.”

“Never bet against a Scotty Bowman team.”

“Roy is human. He can be beaten.”

“The Avs missed their chance.”

“The Wings have ’em right where they want them.”

“GO WINNNNGS!”

Of course, if the Wings lose tonight?

You don’t need me.

Just take what you heard Thursday morning, and double it.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays and “Monday Sports Albom” 6:30-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR-AM (760).

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