Friday Night Playoff Hockey May 19
The action shifts back to the Eastern Conference with an unpredictable leader in the series. After the most lopsided game of the second round betting has become tougher than ever to predict which is why we’re here to break down the game for you to give you all the information you need to stay one step ahead.
It won’t be easy to make a prediction, and with just one game on tap the stakes are always high. Be sure to read into the matchups as much as possible but also trust your gut. Unlike the NBA or NFL, “upsets” happen almost every night thanks to all the variables that happen on the ice. Don’t be afraid to take a few risks and pick the underdog if you’re feeling hot. Let’s get to it!
- Pittsburgh (-120) at Ottawa (EVEN)
With many analysts and bettors alike picking the Ottawa Senators to fail in the first round, Canada’s last remaining team has proven everyone wrong to the fullest extent. Thanks to an offensive explosion in game 3 the Sens now have a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 on home ice Friday night. Everything is lined up perfectly for Ottawa as they try to slay another giant and if they didn’t have anyone’s attention before they certainly do now.
The Penguins meanwhile are just trying to even the series. After knocking off the best regular season team in seven games Pittsburgh is having trouble finding their footing against a much different Ottawa team. The Senators have stifled the Penguins at almost every turn and slowed down their once dominant offense to a halt. The Pens will need to find some answers in a hurry if they want to head back home with the series all square.
So much for Ottawa’s “boring” style of play. The Senators have been criticized to some extent for their 1-3-1 system that mimics the old school “trap style” used by teams like the New Jersey Devils back in the day. While the system has been effective, it hasn’t led to a lot of goals – until now. Ottawa piled five goals on Pittsburgh and did it in style on Wednesday night. Mike Hoffman opened up the scoring just 48 seconds into the game before Marc Methot scored ten minutes later to spark a three goal run in just over two minutes of action. At just over halfway through the first period the Senators jumped out to a 4-0 lead and never looked back.
They came flying out of the gate with an energy that we haven’t seen in this series and seemed to be urged on by the home crowd. Ottawa is clearly comfortable playing in their own building and showed that in Game 3 as they were relentless with their pressure. They finished with just 29 shots on net but their chances were fast and furious and obviously good enough to win them the game. If the Senators come out on the ice with that same sort of pressure on Friday night the Penguins could quickly find themselves down in this series again.
Outside of Erik Karlsson the Senators have had a fairly balanced attack throughout these playoffs and that was the case again in Game 3. There were five different goal scorers and and ten different skaters recorded at least one point. A lot of offense came from the blueline as well and most notably in the form of Marc Methot who scored just his second goal of the playoffs. He also added an assist and finished with three shots on goal and four hits.
The Penguins weren’t as fortunate and their offense has come to a screeching halt. After leading the league in goals per game during the regular season Pittsburgh has managed just four goals in their three games against Ottawa so far during this series. The Penguins won just 35 percent of their faceoffs and fired 26 shots on net. Neither of those numbers are good enough to beat any team during the playoffs, let alone one as strong as Ottawa in their own end.
Pittsburgh lacked energy all night and couldn’t seem to mount any sort of comeback after Ottawa jumped out to an early lead. We expected more out of a team that has already won two Stanley Cups under Sidney Crosby and while the captain did add a goal late to break the shutout he needs to get some more help from the rest of his teammates. Evgeni Malkin had his worst game of the playoffs – spending 12 minutes in the penalty box while also registering just one shot on goal. His frustrations may have been getting the best of him but we expect a big bounceback in Game 4.
After starting off these playoffs as the hottest goal scorer in the game rookie Jake Guentzel has cooled off and was a liability on defense in Game 3. He finished the night with a -3 rating, no points and just two shots on net. While we can’t expect him to carry the entire offense, we do expect a little better performance considering how strong he’s been so far. The rookie seems to be doing too much and we wouldn’t be surprised if he slows it down a bit on Friday night.
Ottawa may be a boring team to watch when they’re not scoring five goals, but they sure know how to stop them. The Senators used their patented 1-3-1 style to trap the puck constantly in the neutral zone and ended up thwarting the Penguins early and often. Pittsburgh had trouble against this system during the regular season and it will be interesting to see how they adapt as they’re forced to make a change being down 2-1 in the series.
Not enough can be said about just how strong Erik Karlsson has been throughout the postseason and he’s finally getting the respect he deserves as arguably the league’s best player. His ability to move the puck out of the zone to create offense while also staying stride for stride against players like Malkin and Crosby is unrivaled in the NHL. He was a +4 on Wednesday night and finished with an assist, two shots on goal and a big hit. He does every little thing for Ottawa and Pittsburgh simply doesn’t have an answer.
The Penguins also seem to be scratching their heads for answers when it comes to their defensive effort in their last game. To let in an early goal is one thing, but to watch three more find the back of the net in the same period is another thing entirely. Pittsburgh looked flat-footed and played without the puck for most of the night. They couldn’t get any passes or breakouts out of their own zone and their defensemen will need to find a way to move the puck into Ottawa’s zone.
Olli Maatta has been asked to do a lot with Kris Letang out but the responsibility may be getting to him. He has just one point in his last five games and was run ragged all over the ice in his last outing. Pittsburgh’s best defensemen has not been playing like it lately and he’ll need to find his game in a hurry in order to help the Penguins even this series up.
Craig Anderson has been through a lot this season, but is showing up at the perfect moment for his Ottawa Senators. He stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced and would have had the shutout if it weren’t for a beautiful top by Sidney Crosby on the powerplay late in the third. He’s allowed just one goal in three straight games during this series and is by far the best goalie between the two teams right now.
As for Pittsburgh, Marc-Andre Fleury may not be in net for the start of Game 4. Fleury was pulled early in Game 3 after giving up four goals on just nine shots all within just over 12 minutes into the game. Many Penguins fans have been clamoring for Matt Murray to get the start and we wouldn’t be surprised to see him between the pipes. As of Friday morning, Pittsburgh has yet to make a decision but we would love to see Murray given an opportunity to shine after winning the Cup last season.
Pittsburgh’s Goalies against Ottawa’s Offense. It may not be a specific matchup, but it’s an important one. Pittsburgh’s netminding has taken a turn for the worse while Ottawa’s offense has suddenly exploded. Whoever gets the start in net for the Penguins will need to be at their best and we can’t wait to see who gets the nod.
Regardless of who is in net for Pittsburgh, their offense is going to have to show up. Sidney Crosby has already expressed confidence in his team ahead of Game 4 and he continues to get better with every game as he battles back from a concussion. Take the Penguins getting good odds on the moneyline as they try to even up the series.