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 City.

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.

Dennis 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 for TheFourthPeriod.com.
 

  Archives:
Mar. 31, 2009 Can't Really Fire the Coach
Mar. 08, 2009 Curious Case of Patrick O'Sullivan
Feb. 25, 2009 The Flock no Longer Reins in So. Cal
Jan. 29, 2009 Can't Stop the Brawling
Jan. 07, 2009 Phoenix to Ashes
Dec. 19, 2008 Don't Get Me Started!
Dec. 04, 2008 An American in the Prairies
Nov. 22, 2008 Maybe the Q is part of the A
Nov. 01, 2008 The Plot Thickens
Oct. 27, 2008 Pinging Away
Oct. 16, 2008 West Coast Bias
Sept. 30, 2008 Life is a Spectrum
Sept. 26, 2008 My kind of town
Sept. 10, 2008 Say it ain't so, Joe


 

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