The first goal was fired from a galaxy far, far away, from beyond the blue line, from 75 feet, so far from goalie Greg Stefan it could have had its own zip code.

“Heh, heh, look at that,” the Detroit crowd seemed to chuckle, as Dan Daoust wound up for the try, “Look at where the Toronto guy is shooting from. Can you believe that? Like it’s gonna go in from there, right? Like it’s gonna
. . .

It went in. It went in?

So much for formalities. The Red Wings-Maple Leafs were under way in the playoffs, the first goal had whisked under the Stefan’s right leg to make it 1-0, and the Wings’ goalie had the look of a man who’d just seen a brick crash through his window. And that was with his mask on.

“You call that a goal?” the fans seemed to say. “You’re not gonna count that are you? That’s like rolling a 13 on the dice. That’s like getting the wrong room key and winding up in Bo Derek’s suite. Are you gonna count that? Are you?”

And then, just six minutes later, Detroit’s Mike O’Connell wound up from another galaxy even farther, farther away, from beyond the red line, from 90 feet, where the goalie is a mere speck on the icy horizon.

“Heh, heh,” went the crowd, “Look at this. O’Connell’s even farther out. He’s almost in the seats. Like he expects this to go in, right? Like he expects it to . . . “

It went in. It went in?

“Oh, yeah, we’d call that a goal,” said the Red Wings’ fans. “Knew it all the time. He practices that at home. You’re gonna count it, right?” They go in, they count It counted. They both counted. Unfortunately so did all the others. And when they tallied all the successful shots — even the ones that came from such ordinary places as a few feet in front of the net — it was Toronto with four and Detroit with two, and the city that had not witnessed a second-round playoff game in nine years had just seen something it hadn’t had to watch yet this season — a Detroit playoff loss.

“Did that first goal set the tone?” someone asked Stefan in the quiet locker room afterward. “Was it downhill after that?”

“Aw, I just wasn’t sharp tonight,” said the goalie. “I could feel it right from the start. I wasn’t moving well. When that happens, it’s trouble.”

Maybe it was the long layoff after the first-round series. Maybe it was his dinner. Maybe didn’t matter. Toronto’s Rick Vaive slapped a shot past Stefan with two defensemen chasing him, and Wendel Clark poked in a puck that had ricocheted off Stefan’s glove, and the crowd found itself repeating the sentence it least wanted to hear. Over and over. It went in? It went in.

“I wasn’t going to leave Stef out there to embarrass himself,” said Wings coach Jacques Demers about removing Stefan for Glen Hanlon in the second period. “If it’s gonna be one of those nights, we might as well not have him in.”

It was one of those nights. So Stefan was benched after goal No. 4, a soft shot by defenseman Todd Gill, which came through the legs of Toronto center Mike Allison.

And with that goal, something disappeared. The Red Wings’ skating seemed to

slacken, their passes were suddenly too long, too wide, too short. Toronto tied them up well, until even when the puck was there for them, nothing came of it, or bad things came of it, until the final minutes of the second period seemed like the final minutes of a mid-season loss, with the home team going through the motions and the fans letting the boos gush without hesitation. Red Wings fans chill out It was a remarkable swing in emotion, for this game began as if every fan had mortgaged his house for a ticket, and every cheer got him a dollar back. There was a man with a red light spinning atop his head. The first octopus came flying onto the ice in somewhere during “O Canada.”

How long had it been since a second round playoff here? Nine years? How long had it been since Detroit met Toronto in post- season play? Twenty three years? Can that be right? The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, the Beatles were doing Ed Sullivan?

So the crowd went crazy. It was infectious emotion. But it was a quick fever.

“Are you in a must win for Thursday night now?” someone asked Demers.

“Not at all,” he said. “It’s a six game series now. That’s all.”

Outside the cleanup crew was sweeping up the aisles. The lights were down, the house empty. Where was that octopus now? Where was the man with the light? Where was the noise?

Here was the noise. It had shrunk into a collective sigh, and a question asked with shaking heads as the fans headed home to await Thursday.

It went in? It went in.

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