WINGS LOOK LIKE FLAKES NEXT TO THE AVALANCHE

Chris Osgood hit the ice like a paratrooper without a chute. Save! He snapped to his feet, turned the other way and hit the deck once more. Another save! He barely caught his breath when the puck came flying at him again, enemies all around, a shot by Joe Sakic, rejected, a rebound by Peter Forsberg, slapped away, another rebound, backhanded by Forsberg — and this one went past a diving Osgood into the net, red lights flashing, goal, Colorado.

And all this was in the first three minutes.

Snowed under. If Wednesday was the game in which this year’s Wings were measured against the team that killed their season last year — the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Colorado Avalanche — well, you’ll have to dig a few inches to learn how Detroit did. See that big drift over there? The Wings are buried somewhere inside it.

This was less a hockey game than a clinic. The Avalanche was so efficient, I saw IBM guys taking notes. They were so streamlined, they made Uma Thurman look fat.

This is how simply it worked: Colorado got a power play, it sent guys to the net and they scored. Hey. What a concept. The Wings would love to try it.

Unfortunately, all the shooting was being done by the visitors. Colorado was like a rifle range on skates. Remember last year, when the Wings were exasperated with all the shots and none of the goals?

No such problem Wednesday. They had none of the shots and none of the goals.

“We can’t play like that at home,” groaned Scotty Bowman after the 4-1 spanking. “We can’t play like that anywhere.”

Bowman said his team started too slowly. Of course, that’s like saying your Dodge Intrepid started slowly against a Porsche. What did you expect? Colorado — clearly, at this point, the best team in hockey — had an 11-1 shot advantage in the first seven minutes. Their checking line was more offensive than the Wings’ scoring lines. They had crisp passing, tight defense and great goaltending.

And you don’t want to hear that Colorado is missing three of its stars to injury, do you?

I didn’t think so. Credit where credit’s due

“Were you surprised this wasn’t more intense a game?” someone asked Patrick Roy, the Avalanche goalie, in the locker room after the game.

“Well, we played very well,” he said. “And they were flat.”

That comes as a surprise considering the nature of this rematch. But then there were many empty seats when this game began. This, I believe, had as much to do with villain Claude Lemieux missing as anything else. Had Lemieux been playing, the vampires in our city would have surely filled the place, been there early, hoping for blood, guts, maybe a human sacrifice.

But with Lemieux out with a stomach injury, fans obviously didn’t think attendance was mandatory. This is pretty sad, if you ask me — especially with as good a team as Colorado is fielding these days. It’s the best in the business. It has the best record.

It has some of the top stars in the league in Sakic, Forsberg and Roy.

Not going to see the Avalanche because Claude Lemieux isn’t playing is like not going to see the Chicago Bulls because Bill Wennington missed the trip.

“I thought they were excellent,” said the Wings’ captain, Steve Yzerman, a man who has always showed appreciation for other teams’ talent. “They are clearly the best team we’ve faced all year. They had us chasing them around all night.

“It would be good for us to play them more often, because you have to play sharp and consistent every time you’re on the ice.

“Some games we’ve played so far this year, we’ve been ahead and maybe we let up a little bit. You can’t do that with this team.

“This was a good wake-up call to show us how far we still have to go.”

Wait a second. Did he say wake-up call? There’s good, and then there’s great

Wasn’t it just a wink ago that the Wings and Avalanche were squaring off in the conference finals, and the Wings were favored by nearly everyone? How did the Avalanche get so far ahead so fast?

“Well,” said Yzerman, “we made some changes to our team. We brought in younger players. And we’re still coming along. We hope to be where we want to be a little later in the season.”

Meanwhile, the Avalanche players have taken their championship pedigree and flaunted it. They strut now like a four-star general in full uniform. They are not climbing anymore, they’re defending.

And they’re acting as if it’s their mountain for a while.

“It’s so easy right now,” Forsberg said, shaking his head, as if amazed.
“We go out, we get great shots, great goaltending, great movement.”

Which is why the Avalanche, a great team, confounded the Wings, a good team. Maybe this is how it will be all season. Maybe the gap grows even wider. Or maybe it reverses by the postseason. We can only hope.

For what it’s worth, remember that the Wings clobbered the Avalanche last year during the regular season and lost to it in the playoffs.

“We played them with too much respect tonight,” said Brendan Shanahan. “We played as if they had the Stanley Cup sitting on their bench.”

Oh. I was wondering who that tall guy with the funny hat was.

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