Former Maine goalie Jimmy Howard has a bright future between the pipes in Detroit.

DETROIT – I was talking to Manny Legace in the Red Wings’ dressing room this past week when our conversation was eclipsed by a moon.

Legace kept laughing. I wasn’t sure why. Then I looked over and Chris Osgood was giving him the old double-cheek salute.

Legace and Osgood are theoretically competing to be the Wings’ starting goaltender, but it sure doesn’t seem like it. For one thing, most folks assume (as I do) that Osgood is the Wings’ No. 1 goalie. And for another, they seem like college roommates.

“They are both in their 30s and they still act like they’re 21,” said Jimmy Howard, the third goaltender on the Wings roster.

How can we analyze the Wings’ goaltenders? For the moment, let’s separate them into the Past, Present and Future.

Osgood is the Past.

You feel like you’ve known him forever, and it probably helps that he still looks like he did as a rookie in the 1993-94 season.

Legace is the Present. He will start in goal Wednesday night, and will man the net until Osgood returns from a groin injury.

Howard is the Future. The Wings love his potential, but he’s only 21. He’s at least a year away.

So according to the Everybody Sees Enemies Everywhere handbook, they should have problems.

Theoretically, Osgood should feel like the Wings owe him after shipping him out in 2002 in favor of Dominik Hasek. Instead, he says, “It was time for me to go when I did leave. You just have to change. I’d been here quite a long time. For a goalie to be here that long, it doesn’t happen very often.”

Theoretically, Legace should feel taken for granted. Despite a .918 career save percentage and 2.22 career goals-against average , he has always been considered a backup. He sat behind Osgood, then Dominik Hasek, then Curtis Joseph, then both Hasek and Joseph … and then, when Hasek and Joseph were both hurt two years ago, Legace started 41 games and had a 2.12 goals-against average. He was still considered a backup. But instead, Legace is just fine. He doesn’t mind being No. 2.

Theoretically, Howard should feel like The Man, or at least, The Man in waiting. Instead, he says, “I know with goaltending, it’s a process. You know what? I don’t have a timeframe.”

Theoretically, with Osgood and Legace in the last year of their contracts, they should see Howard as a threat. After all, Howard will usurp them at some point. And Osgood admits, “I definitely want to hold it off as long as I can.”

But Osgood says he remembers his rookie year, when veteran goalies Tim Cheveldae and Vincent Riendeau treated him well. And so Osgood and Legace try to keep Howard at ease.

Thankfully, Osgood and Legace could write a book on keeping people at ease. Howard thought he was joining an NHL team; instead, he is apparently supposed to be the third Stooge.

“Like every day, I feel like I’m the mature one in the group,” Howard said with a laugh. “It’s a never-ending comedy show.”

Osgood and Legace have been close friends since 1999, when Legace arrived in Detroit. They roomed together on the road, ate meals together all the time and pretty much acted like brothers.

“I was just coming into the league then,” Legace said. “He had just come off of a Cup. I didn’t know my (butt) from a hole in the ground. I didn’t know anybody on the team. He really took me under his wing.”

There was, of course, a little hazing.

“He’d order room service and make me go to the door and get it,” Legace said.

Replied Osgood: “I had the remote. He had to get the food.”

They won’t room together this season; under the new collective bargaining agreement, players get their own rooms on the road. But you can bet they’ll request rooms across from each other. That way Osgood can knock on Legace’s door, then moon him.

This loose attitude is part of why Osgood has always handled criticism well, and why he usually bounces back from lousy playoff outings.

“I’m used to it,” he said of playing in Detroit. “I just go and play. I love it. I never really thought of it as being bad. If I played bad, it wasn’t ridiculous how they booed the players. I just always loved playing here.”

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