April 14, 2009 Wanna Bet?
"Sometimes it's not the
best team but it's the team that's playing best."
- Ancient Stanley Cup playoff proverb.
[LOS ANGELES, CA] -- Now it gets good.
With the 82 game appetizer that is the NHL regular-season finally
concluded, we finally get the prime serving. Since I don't consider
myself an expert on the Eastern Conference (some say I'm not an expert
on the West, either), my analysis will focus on the Final Eight west
of the Mississippi (and the St. Laurent).
With parity ever creeping in to the NHL,
though not approaching that of the NFL, it sets up a very interesting
Round One playoff scenario. Let's face it, the year that the Columbus
Blue Jackets make the Big Dance anything can truly happen. Here's my
four cents for what it’s worth:
SHARKS vs. DUCKS - San Jose hasn't played a game in anger in
calendar year 2009 (I'm discounting their battle for the first overall
sport with Detroit as a pennant race) and the old question arises
about a team being able to turn it on after such a lengthy snooze.
Team Teal got the one team they didn't
want to face in the lid lifter of the playoffs, the battle tested
Anaheim Ducks. The Red Wings owe the Phoenix Coyotes a lot of love for
knocking off the Ducks in a shootout in the season finale so they
wouldn't have to face the former champs. I gave Anaheim up for the
dead at the trade deadline; they traded a number of heart and soul
players and couldn't see them putting together the chemistry necessary
to make the playoffs. Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle pushed all the right
buttons down the stretch so they enter the post season as one of the
hottest team in the league and guess what, with more winning players
than the Sharks. In my first upset selection, I like the Ducks in six.
RED WINGS vs. BLUE JACKETS - Yep, the champs were lying in wait
all season. From time to time, they'd play possum with the West,
playing poor defense and letting teams think they were old and had a
Stanley Cup hangover. They finished with 112 points and gave the
Sharks a run for their money for the President's Cup and No.1 seed
overall. I have a vote for the Calder Trophy and mine goes to Jackets
rookie netminder Steve Mason. He gives the Jackets a big edge in the
net and don’t discount the fact that Columbus went 3-3 against Detroit
in the regular season. Sure, the Red Wings are deeper but Rick Nash
killed the Wings all year (six goals in six games) and Antoine
Vermette was clearly the best pickup at the trade deadline. With
absolutely no heat on the Jackets, they win a Game 7 in the Motor
CANUCKS vs. BLUES - Sub-prediction: No Canadian teams will make
the second round of the post season. Roberto Luongo's back should give
out any minute because it's tough to carry a whole roster on your
shoulders. The Sedin twins are point a game players but you’ll get a
true reading of what the league in general thinks about them when they
enter free agency as an entry and don’t get many offers. Mats Sundin
should have stayed in Sweden, eh, and shame on Pavol Demitra for only
scoring 20 goals.
Despite excellent seasons from Ryan
Kesler and Alex Burrows, they Canucks are playing the hottest team in
the West; a St. Louis team playing with house money and zero pressure
on them. Despite major injuries to key performers and at times sitting
15th in the conference during the second half of the season, the Notes
closed with a huge rush to grab the eight spot. The Blues had
everything come together perfectly in order to pass nine closely
bunched teams. Keith Tkachuk actually showed veteran leadership down
the stretch, got a major boost when the fleet Andy MacDonald returned
to the lineup late in the season and they have a hot Mason in the net,
too, this one named Chris. They’ll be major partying under the Gateway
Arch after the Blues eliminate Vancouver after Game 6.
BLACKHAWKS vs. FLAMES - Are the kids alright? They've better
off playing the stumbling Flames in the first round. Even if the
Flames were playing well, I have to support my much-maligned pick of
Chicago as the Cup winners. Things got rocky for the Hawks after the
All Star break but with steady Joel Quenneville behind the bench, the
Hawks soared to a Cinderella 100 point season. For all their hype,
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are 70 point players (Martin Havlat
was the team high scorer), so a disproportionate amount of weight
falls on goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin but his Stanley Cup ring shines
brightly in this locker room. With a major home ice advantage and
Calgary netminder Miikka Kiprusoff playing mediocre, there will be
more madness on Madison come Round Two.
DEATH BY ZAMBONI?
No, the title of this section isn't a spoof on a Stephen King novel
but a possible health hazard on ice. ESPN's award-winning primetime
newsmagazine E:60, will air a segment on its April 14 (today) 7pm ET
show entitled "Danger in the Air."
E:60 investigates the growing problem of
air pollution in the United State's ice rinks. In just the last three
months, incidents in three states have sent nearly 200 people to the
hospital. And with more than half a million children in the country
taking part in ice hockey and figure skating, little concern has been
shown regarding the health and safety of these children from ice
resurfacers, machines that emit harmful pollutants.
To document how serious a problem indoor air quality is in ice arenas,
E:60 tested a number of rinks around the country, and some of the
figures are alarming. At present Colorado, Indiana and Ohio and one
county in Pennsylvania require rinks to monitor air quality.
Thirty-four rinks were tested by E:60 throughout the country and
eleven rinks failed tests because of too much carbon dioxide, too much
nitrous dioxide or too high a level of ultrafine particles. E:60
interviewed the rink owner of Tampa area rink where some members of
high school hockey team got sick and spoke with one of the mother of
player and team coach.
In addition, USA Hockey executive
director Dave Ogrean and Suzanne Condon from Massachusetts Dept of
Health spoke about an issue that is a must watch for any family with
kids presently playing hockey.
Bernstein, the man behind SCORE! Media and an NHL
Analyst with ESPN Radio, is the Los Angeles
Correspondent for The 4th Period Magazine and a Columnist