WINGS THROW PENS A ROPE, THEN SINK

I had this idea, before the rematch between the Red Wings and Penguins, that Marian Hossa might wait until Sidney Crosby had the puck and was flying down the ice and then he’d yell, “Yo, Sidney, right here!” and out of habit, Crosby would fire the puck to his old teammate.

“I did that against New Jersey,” Hossa told me earlier this week. “Their defenseman (Colin White) was under pressure and I yelled, ‘Whitey, Whitey!’ and he sends me the puck behind the net.”

Really?

“Yeah. Right on the tape.”

Hmm. I was only joking. But after watching the debacle at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday night, maybe Detroit should have tried it. Hossa’s first game against his old team, on paper, wasn’t supposed to be that close. And on the ice, for a long time, it wasn’t.

And then, with a three-goal lead, the Wings forgot that a denied team is a hungry team.

And that hungry team chewed them up.

In one of the worst collapses in recent memory – and one that is simply inexcusable for a roster of this caliber, playing at home – the Penguins outhustled, outmuscled and out-swarmed the Wings to rise from a 5-2 deficit in the third period and win in overtime, 7-6.

Pittsburgh put five goals past Chris Osgood in less than 17 minutes. He looked like a man being attacked by bees. The Wings turned it over, then turned it over some more. Their defense sagged. They could barely squirt the puck from their own end.

“It was like we stopped playing,” Hossa said.

A marque matchup

Remember, this was a rematch of the Stanley Cup finals. It was supposed to be a big night – at least as big as the NHL gets in November. This was the Lakers-Celtics. This was Patriots-Giants. There was Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on one side and Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom on the other.

Oh, and Hossa, the star who crossed party lines, facing his old team for the first time.

And for much of the night, it was one for Hossa’s scrapbook. In the first two periods, he racked up two more assists – a feed-and-fire for Lidstrom to Tomas Holmstrom and a back-and-forth for Datsyuk – to pad his team-leading point total to 19. That’s 19 points in 14 games. More than Crosby. More than most players in the league. For a guy who signed for less to play here than he could have gotten elsewhere.

If you’re from Pittsburgh, you wanted to throw up.

But then, something happened. The team that lost Hossa and Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts – and was missing several key players due to injury – kept its head down, drew penalties and kept firing. Jordan Staal cut it to 5-4. Staal cut it to 6-5. Staal evened it at 6-6.

And, in overtime, with the Wings looking as hopeful as the stock market, Staal stole the puck from Datsyuk and passed to Ruslan Fedotenko for the winning goal.

The Wings get a point for this. It may be their least deserved point in a long time.

“We had this game 5-2 and 6-4,” Mike Babcock said, “… that game’s gotta be over.”

It is. That’s the bad part.

No signs of weakness

Look, nights like this matter. I know it’s November. I know few things are breezier than an NHL regular-season score. But some games are about tone. When you’re the reigning champion, to paraphrase “The Godfather,” you keep your friends close and your enemies losing. You don’t let the guys you beat for the Cup come into your building and score seven goals.

That tells teams you can lose your focus. That says you may be resting on your laurels.

“We were a little too nice in our own end,” Zetterberg said.

Can’t be nice. Winning titles is an attitude, and attitudes build all season long.

Now, to be fair, the Wings did not play badly all night. They took control after about 10 minutes and tacked up goals as if making a superstar video, one from Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Holmstrom, Johan Franzen, Jiri Hudler and – why not? – Darren McCarty.

But the finish was awful. The finish was a fire drill. And when you give up seven goals to Pittsburgh and Sidney Crosby only has one of them, you’re not playing championship hockey.

“How was it going against you old team?” someone asked Hossa in the quiet locker room.

“You know,” he said, “after the face-off and the puck dropped, I wasn’t thinking about it.”

If only forgetting it were that easy.

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