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Each team seems to draw on a different fuel source. In their second-round series win, the Penguins endlessly shoveled pucks into the Senators' goal—scoring 22 times in five games—like coal into a furnace, to power their perpetual motion machine.
In such high-paced, high-stakes games, everyone struggles to keep up, including the radio announcers, shouting out their verbal telegrams, half-sentences devoid of subjects: "Sidesteps a hip check, side-boarded into the neutral zone, poked to the left circle, dumped into the corner, flipped into the high slot, one-timer, off the pipe, rebound, goal!" They're auctioneers—"Goal!" always sounds like "Sold!"—without a syllable to spare. To save time, Red Wings play-by-play man Kenneth Kalczynski goes by Ken Kal on the radio.
At the speed of playoff hockey, everything but the goals can go unnoticed. Circumstances that would require an ER visit in real life pass without ceremony in the NHL postseason. It might have escaped your attention—and theirs—that players lost teeth in Games 1, 2 and 3 of Ottawa's opening-round defeat of the Canadiens. Senators goalie Craig Anderson, after all, lost his behind a mask in Game 1, as did Montreal goalie Carey Price in Game 2. Kicked by a teammate, Price lifted his mask like an arc welder, removed the tooth and discreetly delivered it to the bench.
In Ottawa's 6--1 win in Game 3, Senators rookie center Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored the go-ahead goal while taking a bracing stick-slap to the face from Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban. In the ensuing celebration, Pageau casually picked his tooth off the ice as if it were a lost contact lens.
By long-standing code, players pretend to be oblivious to pain, and some seem to believe themselves so. Sharks center Logan Couture blocked a shot with his left hand in Game 3 against the Kings, then injured his right ankle while being slung into the boards in the same game. Asked what impact the loss of 50% of his limbs had on his play in the series, Couture said, "Zero."
And so it goes, on a nightly basis for eight consecutive weeks, the speeding and the bleeding, making the Stanley Cup playoffs the most intense short-term spectacle in all of sports, a symphony for foghorn, swallowed whistle and dentist drill.
The violence inherent in all this, obscured by the game's pace and grace, still manages to come as a surprise. Even someone who has seen it all—the Voice of Hockey, Doc Emrick—can express a kind of Well I never! astonishment at the inescapable brutality. "Oh, my!" Emrick said as Detroit blueliner Carlo Colaiacovo was pile-driven into the boards by Blackhawks winger Andrew Shaw. "What a rough ride into the corner!"
Emrick's slightly archaic expressions echo the language of international diplomacy employed by the players themselves, whose public comments are made with the politesse of European attachés.
During the enervating series between the Red Wings and the Blackhawks, Detroit's Daniel Cleary and Chicago's Bryan Bickell had several violent collisions, after one of which Cleary smiled and said, "I don't think we'll be exchanging Christmas cards anytime soon." Such understatement is the opposite of hype. The soft sell, the downplay, the pooh-pooh, is quintessentially hockey. When Rangers left wing Carl Hagelin emerged with butterfly stitches in the third period of Game 3 against the Bruins, NBC analyst Pierre McGuire—with no choice but to acknowledge the picture on his monitor—said, "Be a tough night shavin' for him."
Pierre McGuire—and you have to love that French-Irish pileup of a name, champagne-meets-shamrock—calls the games for NBC from a kind of carnival dunk tank wedged between the benches (page 20), occasionally escaping to interview players pre- and postgame. Invariably the interview concludes with the player saying, "Thanks, Pierre." It can be disconcerting, especially when the phrase issues from a man who has, just seconds earlier, been the perpetrator of a violent Kronwalling.