April 16, 2009 in Sports

Commentary: You, too, can be an NHL expert

Mike Lopresti Gannett
 

The NHL playoffs began Wednesday night.

What, you hadn’t noticed?

Relax, there is still time to come up to speed, so you can join the conversation around the water cooler, the next time the subject turns to the New York Rangers’ lousy power-play situation.

We are not here to offer deep analysis on the road to the Stanley Cup (Pssst … that’s the trophy that goes to the team that wins). Far from it. Just some basic tidbits, for those who have trouble remembering that Columbus, Ohio, has a hockey team.

NHL Playoffs for Dummies. Which I am.

No. 1. If you like overtime games, you’ve come to the right place. Last spring, nearly 20 percent of the playoff games went extra periods. San Jose and Dallas had a marathon-on-ice, where three games went into overtime and the clinching sixth game lasted four overtimes.

No. 2. Often, home ice isn’t any more valuable than what goes in the soda cups at the concession stands. In eight of the 15 series in 2008, the road team won the clinching game.

No. 3. If you’re wondering, they do let an American or two play.

No. 4. Like upsets? Look to where the Zamboni machines roam. Seven times, a No. 8 seed has dumped a No. 1 seed in the NHL first round. That is nearly unheard of in the NBA.

No. 5. You think the auto industry has had big layoffs? There are eight teams in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Four of the eight fired their head coach during the season.

No. 6. In case you missed it, Wayne Gretzky doesn’t play anymore.

No. 7. Speaking of Columbus, the Blue Jackets are making their first playoff appearance in history, against defending champion Detroit.

It is a moment so big in Columbus, the public might even be momentarily distracted from the tailback battle at Ohio State’s spring practice.

No. 8. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers are meeting in the first round. Perhaps you’ve noticed that there is fighting in hockey once in a great while. Be advised, these two teams get along about as well as North and South Korea.

No. 9. The Boston Bruins have not survived the first round of the playoffs in 10 years. Three times, they have been evicted by the Montreal Canadiens. Guess who they’re meeting again in the first round? Imagine the Red Sox and the Yankees … with sticks.

No. 10. When it comes to scoring goals, the top player in all of hockey is Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. He might not ring the same bell as LeBron James on Main Street, but he’s pretty big back home in Moscow.

No. 11. To sound hockey savvy, note to your friends how the first-round series between Vancouver and St. Louis features two of the hottest teams on ice. Vancouver is 23-7-2 since Feb. 1 and St. Louis went 25-9-7 the last half of the season. To sound exceptionally savvy, mention how neat it is that Vancouver’s twin brothers, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, finished this season with the exact same number of points.

No. 12. The team with the best record is the San Jose Sharks. They also have a slovenly reputation of disappearing too soon in recent playoffs. Not quite the Cubs on skates, but an early exit this time would be especially embarrassing.

No. 13. Whatever time you spend with hockey, try to keep an eye on the Detroit Red Wings.

One, because they’re trying to repeat, and that is harder to do than finding a short bathroom line between periods. No champion has done it in a decade, and the past four Stanley Cup finals have involved eight different teams.

Two, with the playoffs under way, the octopuses will be flying out of the stands in Joe Louis Arena.

Close games, upsets, animosity, twins and sea creatures plopping into the ice. How can you resist?

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