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Twelve other teams have been mercifully relieved of their playoff pain, the anguish and itchiness that comes from advancing. In New York, John Tortorella was relieved of his coaching duties for being too much like his own beard (prickly, coarse and abrasive). In Detroit, Hockeytown is once again just a theoretical place, a municipality of the mind, like Margaritaville.
But the last game of the season in Hockeytown was magnificent and a microcosm of the entire playoffs. Game 6 of the Western Conference semis was a must-win for Chicago, but it also sort of was for Detroit, which led the series 3--2 but didn't want to play a seventh game on the road.
And so the match proceeded at a blistering pace in the usual hockey staccato, all pokechecks, hip checks, toe drags, top shelves, fourth lines and five holes. Doc Emrick hammered out beautifully rhythmic phrases on his anvil: "Sharp shot, waffleboarded by Howard!" and "Up the boards, up for grabs!"
The Red Wings were trailing 4--2 with 51.8 seconds left in the third period when suddenly—Henrik Zetterberg's Beard!—Damien Brunner scored for Detroit. "Datsyuk to Brunner!" Ken Kal shouted over the radio. "SCORES! And the Wings still have a pulse!"
What seemed like a lifetime later, 15.6 seconds remained, and the Blackhawks were still leading 4--3, and there was a face-off in Chicago's end. The tension in the building and over the airwaves had become excruciating. The scene could not have become more fraught, until someone made sure it did.
Just before the puck dropped, the public address at Joe Louis Arena played "O Fortuna," the single most cataclysmic piece of music ever composed (by a German named Carl Orff, as it happens, in the 1930s).
You might not know its name, but you surely know the tune: It plays whenever the world is about to be saved—or destroyed—in countless movies and TV shows. It plays when the Patriots take the field at Gillette Stadium. And when it played with 15.6 seconds left in the season at Joe Louis Arena, it threatened to remove the roof with a flourish, as if it were the silver lid of a serving tray (in the kind of restaurant in which hockey fans don't eat).
The Red Wings, of course, couldn't equalize. But those final, frenetic 15.6 seconds were enough to give even a neutral observer an ulcer, if any neutral observer ever existed where the Red Wings and the Blackhawks are concerned.
In such high-strung playoff moments, another song comes to mind. Not "O Fortuna" but "The Hockey Song," by the Canadian folksinger Stompin' Tom Connors, who died in March, midway through this shortened season. If you never attended an NHL game, you probably never heard the song. But if you attended even a single game, you almost certainly know "The Hockey Song," whose chorus is suddenly plausible again 40 years after it was written. "The good ol' hockey game is the best game you can name," it goes. "And the best game you can name is the good ol' hockey game."