The first batch of series are through their first three games and we have a pair of teams without a victory. Columbus and Minnesota are in real trouble stuck at 0-3 to the Penguins and Blues respectively, but they have Monday off. Now Calgary and Chicago are the two teams facing a practical must-win game to avoid stranglehold on the series by their opponent. The Blackhawks are in real trouble as they haven’t scored a goal let alone win a game and that all went down at home at the United Center.
While in the other series we have the young Maple Leafs taking the President’s Trophy Winners, the Washington Capitals, to a pair of overtime games that were split by the two clubs. The Senators avoided a catastrophe by rallying for a win over the Bruins in Ottawa to split the first two games. We’ve had some fantastic hockey to date and can expect the same Monday, so let’s get to it!
Washington Capitals (-4.5)
Toronto Maple Leafs (+4.5)
Total: 5.5 (+105o, -135u)
Washington (-160) at Toronto (+130)
What a first two games it has been between the Capitals and Leafs. The majority of the hockey world have the Capitals headed to the final let alone losing to Toronto in the first round. Nevertheless, the young Leafs teams has given Washington everything they can handle and more. Both games went to overtime at the Verizon Centre and the scene now shifts to the Air Canada Centre. The playoff deprived fanbase should be in full throat Monday when the puck drops between these two clubs.
The Capitals are the heavy favorite in this series and they should be. They have been consistent throughout the season with their longest losing streaks being a 3 and a 4 game streak so it’s hard to imagine them dropping 4 of 7 games. This is the playoffs though, and Washington has its demons. This isn’t their first President’s Trophy and they’ve been the “favorite” before but since Alexander Ovechkin landed in DC they have never been past the 2nd round. A truly amazing stat for a team that’s been so skilled for so long. There’s added pressure considering they went all in with the addition of Kevin Shattenkirk and the likes of Orlov, Oshie and Alzner are all free agents so this team may be drastically different next season.
The goal heading into the season for the Leafs was to make strides, well they certainly did that. A team that had 9-rookies on its roster at one time is now tied in a series with the NHL’s best club. The thought process may have been that this is good enough but head coach Mike Babcock and his young squad figure now that we are here we might as well win. To be honest, the Leafs could be up 2-0 in this series as they blew a 2-goal lead in game one before falling in the first overtime. They also blew a third period lead in game 2 but didn’t let it affect their young nerves, winning the game in double overtime Saturday night. Toronto is one of the fastest teams in the league and are a handful even for the vaunted Capitals.
The Capitals are one of the best offensive units in the league. Statistically, they are ranked 3rd this year but when you have the depth and skill this group has they are terrifying for a young defense in Toronto. The obvious threat is Alex Ovechkin. The Great 8 had a down regular season scoring just 33 goals his second lowest total in a full season. He did have a beauty in game 2 and is always a threat when he’s on the ice. The best part of the Caps though is their secondary scoring. T.J. Oshie also potted 33 goals this season certainly a surprise performance from the American winger. Nicklas Backstrom led the team in points and is the biggest reason for Oshie and the Caps’ success this season. He is a dynamic player with great hands. Don’t forget about Mr. Game 7, Justin Williams, as he scored a pair in the series opener and knows how to get it done when the heat turns up.
The Leafs offense is quite prolific itself. Coming into 2016-17 names like Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and William Nylander didn’t have the same cache as Ovechkin or Backstrom but the trio of rookies is showing they know how to put the puck in the back of the net. They were the three leading scorers on the 5th ranked offense in the NHL. Other than Marner they haven’t hit the score sheet in the playoffs but they have been given the bulk of minutes for offensive players, drawing the top d-man on the opposing team. That has allowed for other lines to breakthrough. None more than the 4th line. Kasperi Kapanen had a pair of tallies in game 2 including the winner on a beautiful pass by Brian Boyle. If the big guns get going look-out for the Leafs to make a serious run in this series.
On the other side of the puck the advantage goes squarely over to the Capitals. They had the number one ranked defense during the regular season and are stacked with veteran blueliners. They also play a solid team-defense scheme as even the perennially minus player Alex Ovechkin has been on the plus side ever since Barry Trotz took over as head coach.
The Leafs have struggled on defense this season ranking 22nd in the league. It can be expected as their two biggest cogs on defense, Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner, are under 25 . The duo played over 40-minutes in game two which is a ridiculous amount for any player. The issues on defense have gotten worse for Toronto as veteran Roman Polak left the last game with an ugly looking injury and is lost for the season. Nikita Zaitsev is also questionable with a concussion he suffered in the final game of the regular season.
The two netminders in this one are solid in their own right. The edge does go to Brayden Holtby at least for his regular season showing. He is the defending Vezina winner and will be up for the award again this year but Frederik Andersen has been great as well. His numbers aren’t as flashy as the Caps’ goalie but that has a lot to do with what’s going on in front of him.
Alex Ovechkin v. Morgan Rielly. No one is more dynamic on the ice at the ACC than Alex Ovechkin. He can take over a game at any moment and will need to be tracked relentlessly all game. He has had issues in the playoffs by falling flat on the biggest stage but he’s the best goal scorer of his generation and leads a team that is primed for a deep playoff run. Rielly will be tracking the Russian all game. He’s averaging 32+ minutes a game, two OT games will make that happen, but he’ll be relied upon heavily again and has been up to the challenge thus far.
The obvious answer here is the Capitals. They are the better team and should still win this series well before game 7. However, the Leafs have put up a nice fight and might continue it with a raucous crowd at home. Maybe we will see the goal barrage we have been expecting as well.
Ottawa Senators (+4.5)
Boston Bruins (-4.5)
Total: 5 (EVENo, -130u)
Ottawa (+145) at Boston (-175)
It has been a thrilling series thus far between the two Atlantic Division rivals. It was probably the closest contest of any of the 8 and naturally we sit tied at 1. Things could have been a lot different had the 3rd period of game 2 gone the way of the Bruins. They looked like they would take both games at the Canadian Tire Centre up 3-1 in the 3rd but Ottawa rallied and won it in OT. Both teams have hit the infirmary hard and will be shorthanded in this one but that’s something the Senators at least have dealt with all season long.
Trying to figure out how the Senators got to the playoffs let alone 2nd in the division has been difficult. Other than Erik Karlsson they lack a true star yet they have gotten it done. None of their stats are flashy but head coach Guy Boucher has had his team ready to go night in and night out down the stretch and into the playoffs. Outside of Ottawa names like Hoffman, Turris and Stone may not be too familiar but they have been the cog in the wheel for the Sens. They also have a goaltender playing the best of his career in Craig Anderson.
Boston too has been a tricky team to figure out this season. At the midway point, there were questions about where they were headed even after firing their head coach Claude Julien. The Bruins, however, have responded and are looking like a tough out in the first round. Brad Marchand won’t win the Hart Trophy but has had a season worthy of consideration. He’s a pesky player with a nose for the net and has come up big for Boston time and again in 2016-17.
The Senators were the 22nd ranked offense in the NHL during the regular season but had plenty of depth to help get the job done. Nine players had 10+ goals on the season but no one cracked the 30-goal mark. This type of scoring is actually a positive in the playoffs where relying on a few to carry the load can see you out the door if they slump for a week. They have just 5-goals in their first two playoff games but that was enough for a split and expect much of the same. Think timely scoring not quantity with the Senators.
Boston has been much more efficient on offense this season at 13th in the league. They are a bit more “top-heavy” when it comes to production with the likes of Marchand, David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci but they too can expect secondary scoring in the playoffs. Nevertheless, Marchand is the engine on this club and when he’s rolling he’s tough to contain.
Where to start with either of these clubs. For Ottawa their two main players, Karlsson and Marc Methot were not certainties to play in games 1 or 2. Methot nearly lost half his finger to a Sidney Crosby slash and Karlsson has a nagging foot injury. So far, they have been able to play which has helped the top-10 defense from the regular season keep its club in games. Still they’ll need big minutes from game 2 hero Dion Phaneuf and Cody Ceci to help alleviate the stress on the ailing d-core.
Boston lost a defenseman for the 4th straight game! This time Adam McQuaid joined Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and Colin Miller in the trainer’s room. In has come Charlie McAvoy who is averaging 25+ minutes after just weeks ago playing in the Frozen Four NCAA tournament. Truly remarkable stuff from a guy with 2-games of NHL experience. This group is far different than the 9th ranked defense from the regular season and we will see if the make-shift blue line can keep getting it done.
This matchup is a close one. Tuukka Rask has been a stalwart for the Bruins for a while now and had a pretty good year in net. He owned a 2.23 GAA and .915 save percentage in the regular season and had a great second half. Craig Anderson has had an inspirational year. He missed a ton of a time attending to his wife while she battled cancer but when in net he has been terrific for the Sens.
Erik Karlsson v. Brad Marchand. Karlsson was a stud in game 2. He absolutely ripped on teammate Derrick Brassard for a lackluster effort only to set him up for a huge goal. That type of leadership is key for a Sens team that is injured all over. He will also need to keep Marchand in check who assuming he doesn’t spear a guy in the “lower abdomen” can be a dominant force. Again, if Marchand gets going this may be a quick series.
There has to be a let-down for the Bruins who were 20-minutes away from a stranglehold on this series. However, this season certainly hasn’t gone according to plan for Boston so I’m sure it won’t faze them. The Sens pulled a Houdini act in game 2 and I don’t see it happening on the road at the Garden.
Chicago Blackhawks (+1.5)
Nashville Predators (-1.5)
Total: 5 (-135o, +105u)
Chicago (-115) at Nashville (-115)
This series has been by far the biggest surprise thus far in the playoffs. Many people thought the Blackhawks would steamroll their way to at least the finals but instead they have dropped two home games and have yet to score a goal. The Predators have done a fantastic job keeping the big names on Chicago in check and Pekka Rinne has been great when called upon. This is basically a must-win for the Hawks if they want to win their 4th cup with this core group.
You can’t understate how awful the first two games have been for the Blackhawks. I mean they haven’t scored a goal yet. Toews, Kane et al have been frustrated time and again by a well-organized Preds team that has kept them to the outside and limiting genuine chances. Chicago has looked good for spurts and I wouldn’t put anything past this group of players and head coach Joel Quinneville but the time is now to show it.
If the Predators gave you their ideal situation after two games it wouldn’t come close to what they’ve accomplished. Shutting out the Western Conference’s best team in the regular season not once but twice is remarkable. They do know however, they can’t rest on their laurels because one win in game 3 and the pressure goes back on Nashville for game 4.
It’s hard to say anything positive about a club when they haven’t scored in two games but their regular season performance suggests they could breakout. The question has always been where will they get secondary scoring but so far, it’s the primary scoring that’s let them down. Kane and Toews led the way for a 9th ranked offense and need to step-up. Artem Anisimov has been plagued with injury lately but he too needs to wake up and fast.
The Predators were a decent scoring team in the regular season but to put up 7 goals on the Hawks through 2 games is surprising. Much like their first 82 games its spread around with 7 different players scoring in the payoffs thus far. Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg led the way with 31 goals and they have just one goal between them so far. If they start to get going it could be brooms for Chicago. They also have the best offensive defenseman in the league led by Subban and Josi who can light the lamp themselves.
The Sharks have probably the most reliable duo in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook but it hasn’t been enough to slow down the Predators. They’ll still be relied upon heavily with big minutes if the Hawks can make this series and there is no one in the league more up to that task. The Hawks defense was pretty solid all year at 11th in the league so a 5-goal outburst is abnormal and shouldn’t happen again.
The defensive performance so far by Nashville has been spectacular but their organization is what’s most impressive. They have great d-man that’s for sure but they are quite offensive. They haven’t fallen into the trap of being too offensive and the forwards have helped out a ton. The Preds are always a solid defensive team but this can’t possibly continue at this pace.
Corey Crawford hasn’t been good this series but it’s not all on him. He’s not a top-5 goalie in the NHL but he’s not a bottom 30-goalie either. His regular season 2.55 GAA is decent and he’s won a cup but don’t be surprised if he’s on a short leash in this one. When Pekka Rinne is on he’s one of the best goalies in the world and he’s on. He and Cam Talbot of the Oilers are the only keepers with 2 shutouts and both of them did back-to-back. IF he keeps playing at this level the Preds may go on a run.
Jonathan Toews v. Roman Josi. Toews may not be the number 1 option on the Hawks but he’s the leader and he needs to turn this around. If he gets going the team will follow. Josi needs to be the stopper for Nashville when the offensive flurry inevitably comes from Chicago. He isn’t your quintessential stay at home defenseman but he’ll need to be responsible in game 3.
I wouldn’t put anything past the Blackhawks but down 0-3 is just mathematically tough. They absolutely have to have this one and I think they can do it. They know if they sneak one here it’s game on in the series. They won’t give you the true odds as the betting line knows it’s likely they don’t drop three straight but there’s a reason for that too, they probably won’t drop three straight.
Anaheim Ducks (+1.5)
Calgary Flames (-1.5)
Total: 5 (-120o, -110u)
Anaheim (EVEN) at Calgary (-130)
They say you’re not in trouble in a series until you lose your first game on home ice but being down 2-0 isn’t all that great either. However, that’s where we stand in the series between the Ducks and Flames. A month ago, the Flames were the hottest team in the NHL and they have the firepower to turn it around but they are up against a very deep and seasoned Anaheim team that wants to change its recent playoff fortunes.
The Ducks may have had the quietest 100+ point season in recent memory. Many people forgot about just how good this team really is. This was all while their two studs Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were having down seasons. Getzlaf has turned it around and Perry is always a threat. If they can do it without them clicking imagine if the two really get going. Their issue has been scoring but with the deep blueline it hasn’t mattered of late.
The Flames have had some tough puck luck and if not for a horrid bounce late in the third in game 2 this may be a tied series. They also had a goal called back in that game that most people felt should have been allowed. All that while they have had a parade line to the penalty box. If this trend doesn’t change it may be a quick series but they have a solid d-core and goaltender to change that and quickly.
The Ducks haven’t been the most prolific offense of the 2016-17 season. In fact, at 18th in the NHL you could say they have struggled to score. If it weren’t for a breakout season by Rickard Rakell this may have been a totally different season but they have done enough on a nightly basis to get the wins. Getzlaf, Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg each have a pair of goals in the post season accounting for all six tallies and if they get any depth scoring look out!
The Flames have a youthful bunch that can score in bunches starting with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. They only had a 16th ranked offense but it was much more efficient down the stretch. Monahan and Gaudreau are the focal point of the offense but also the focus of the Ducks’ defense so they need to see the like of Ferland and Backlund step-up. They have guys who can get the job done but the Ducks defense will be tough to crack.
Anaheim has been solid on defense all season. They gave up a poultry 2.4 goals a night in the regular season good for 3rd in the league and have continued it through 2 games in the postseason. They rely on Hampus LIndholm and Sami Vatanen but the latter is a game time decision which means Cam Fowler may be called upon more. Head coach Randy Carlyle has them playing great on the backend and space and time is always tough to find against the Ducks.
John Gibson has been solid this season. When he was hurt, Jonathan Bernier stepped in and was maybe even better but this is Gibson’s team. His 2.22 GAA and .924 save percentage during the regular season were top notch and he’s been great through two games. Brian Elliott was also stud this year. He even won 11-straight starts for the Flames. He’s not been at fault in this series but hasn’t stolen one for Calgary either and down 2-0 he may need to at some point.
Hamphus Lindholm v. Sean Monahan. Lindholm has led the team in minutes and been a rock on the blue line all year. He is your classic stay at home defenseman and plays Carlyle’s scheme to a tee. The Flames’ Monahan needs to jump start the offense and will have to go through Lindholm to do it.
Calgary needs a win in the worst way and should be able to do it on home ice. They have tons of talent and should breakout for a high-scoring game in this one. Elliott too will need to stand tall.
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