Thursday Night Hockey April 27
Our remaining two series kick off on Thursday night as the NHL’s second round continues. We had some great opening games and the action is only going to heat up as teams get further and further along in their series. As always, we’ll break down each matchup in its entirety and give you a series outlook as well as our prediction for Game 1.
As the intensity of the hockey increases and the frequency of the games slow down, it’s important to be as well-researched and informed as you can for each bet. Every wager you place will take on a little more meaning and that’s why we’re here to make sure you have the best information possible. Let’s get to it!
- Pittsburgh (+110) at Washington (-140)
The most highly-anticipated matchup of the second round kicks off on Thursday night when the Pittsburgh Penguins travel to Washington for a date with the Capitals. We’ve seen this movie before and thanks to the new format of the NHL playoffs what should be the Eastern Conference Final matchup is now taking place in the second round. Pittsburgh has had Washington’s number in the playoffs forever and after defeating them in 2009 they have now won two Stanley Cups under Sidney Crosby after eliminating the Capitals.
It’s hardly fair that Washington gets called choke-artists based on their inability to win the Cup, considering that they have to play Pittsburgh each time, but that’s the label they’re left with. The Capitals will repeatedly say that the past doesn’t matter and that they’re focused on this one series, but there has to be some nervousness left hanging around. The Penguins are proven winners and look as dominant as ever while the Capitals had some trouble with the Maple Leafs and now need to eliminate their arch enemy.
Both teams know how to score the puck and came off a regular season in which they dominated the competition. Pittsburgh finished the year with the league’s number one ranked offense, averaging 3.48 goals a game and were up to their old trick during the first round of the playoffs this year. Against the Blue Jackets the Penguins fired in 21 goals in just five games for an average of 4.2 a night.
The Penguins are loaded with talent up front and there is no better trio of forwards in the NHL than Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin. Malkin leads the team with an incredible 11 points in 5 games while Kessel is second with 8 followed closely by Crosby who has recorded 7. Getting Malkin back and healthy in time for the playoffs has turned this team’s offense from a powerhouse into almost unstoppable and now they have another face stealing the headlines.
Rookie Jake Guentzel leads the team (and the rest of the league) with five playoff goals in just five games. He scored an overtime winner during a hat trick and added two more against the Blue Jackets to come out of nowhere and steal the spotlight. If he continues to carry a hot stick into the second round the Capitals will have a lot more to worry about than just the performance of the three-headed beast that is Malkin, Crosby and Kessel.
Not to be outdone the Capitals know how to put the puck in the back of the net as well. They finished just behind the Penguins with the second best offense in the NHL, averaging 3.19 goals a game during the regular season. Against the Maple Leafs they weren’t quite as prolific, but still totaled 18 goals over six games for an average of exactly 3.0 a night. That production is more than acceptable during the playoffs and Washington has a variety of scorers who can help them achieve it.
Alex Ovechkin scored three goals against Toronto but was otherwise quiet as he failed to register an assist in the series. T.J. Oshie is the team leader with seven points while perennial playoff superhero Justin Williams chipped in with six including a huge overtime goal. The Capitals have depth at every position upfront and while they had trouble keeping up with the young Leafs at times they still managed to outscore them when all was said and done.
Ovechkin seems to draw a little extra energy whenever he goes up against Crosby and we wouldn’t be surprised to see him fire a few more pucks on net to try and get his team ahead early. Assuming he’s completely healthy after taking a big hit from Nazem Kadri in the first round this could be the series he explodes in.
While Pittsburgh’s offense has been something to marvel at for years, their defense has lacked the same pedigree. The Penguins allowed an average of 2.84 goals a game this season which ranked just 17th in the league and now things are only going to get tougher. They’re without Kris Letang for the entire playoffs and mainly got by the first round thanks to their goaltending. They were outshot in four of the five games and gave up an average of 38.8 shots a night. Letang led the team in ice-time during the playoffs last year and now they’re trying to make up the slack with Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley, Ian Cole, Ron Hainsey, Brian Dumoulin and most importantly Justin Schultz.
Schultz is the most offensively skilled player along Pittsburgh’s blueline and showed it during the first round with three assists. He finished the regular season with 51 points including 12 goals and was tied for seventh among defensemen in that category. Schultz only averaged 13 minutes of playing time during the Penguins’ cup run last year but is averaging over 21 minutes a game thanks to Letang’s injury and his improved play. While his offense will be counted on, he’ll also need to keep in mind he’s up against the offense of the Capitals and not the Blue Jackets.
Those Capitals know how to stop the puck as well and while they had some trouble with the high-scoring Leafs early on they settled down to hold Toronto to just two goals over their last two games. During the regular season, Washington allowed just 2.25 goals a game for the league’s number one ranked defense and they looked like it during the last few games of their series against Toronto.
Kevin Shattenkirk is still adjusting to his new role on the Capitals but has shown flashes of brilliance and instantly made this team that much more dangerous for their postseason run. He led all Washington defensemen with three points during the first round series but finished as -4 and will need to be stronger in stopping the Penguins’ dynamic offense in round two.
The Penguins were dealt a serious blow when Matt Murray went down at the start of the first round with an injury and while we still might see him the keys have been turned over to Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury as brilliant at times like when he made 49 saves during Game 5 but was also shaky during stretches. He finished with a 2.52 goals against average and a .933 save percentage for the series but will need to be even stronger against Ovechkin and the Capitals.
Opposite him is Braden Holtby who was listed as a Vezina Trophy finalist for the best goalie during the regular season but started out cold against Toronto. He finished the series with a 2.36 goals against average and a .925 save percentage but was outplayed by Murray in last year’s series against the Penguins. Luckily for him it’s Fleury in net this time and Holtby has every shot to be the better goalie.
Alex Ovechkin against Sidney Crosby. It’s round three of the Crosby vs. Ovechkin show and we can’t wait to see who comes out on top again. Crosby led the league with 44 goals during the regular season while Ovechkin’s 33 goals were the fewest he’s scored since 2010-2011. Ovechkin has watched Crosby beat him twice now and will have some extra motivation when the puck drops on Thursday night.
The Capitals were again a stronger team during the regular season but looked shaky during the playoffs needing six games to get rid of the young Leafs. Five of those games went to overtime and while they deserve credit for scoring some clutch goals, the Penguins won’t be as easy to keep up with. Take Pittsburgh in Game 1 on the moneyline, and to win this series.
- New York (-125) at Ottawa (-105)
Our second playoff series in the Eastern Conference doesn’t have the same in-your-face star power as the Penguins and Capitals but it’s going to be just as entertaining. The Rangers and Senators battle for a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals when the puck drops on Thursday night and both teams have already faced some tough work in getting here. The Rangers dispatched Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens in six games while the Senators needed the same amount of time to get rid of the pesky Bruins.
Both teams are familiar with one another having played three times during the regular season. Ottawa won the season series 2-1 and outscored New York 8-5 but the Rangers actually finished with more points. Thanks to playing in the toughest division in hockey this year New York was relegated to a Wild Card position which means Ottawa starts the series off with home ice advantage.
Home-ice advantage won’t save the Senators from the fact that they had trouble scoring the puck at times this year. Ottawa averaged just 2.58 goals a game during the regular season and finished off the year ranked 22nd in that department. Their leading point scorer was Erik Karlsson who happens to play defense and that’s rarely a good sign for a team trying to improve their play on the offensive side of the puck.
Despite their struggles during the regular season the offense showed up in time to take on Boston. During their six games the Senators scored a total of 15 goals which is strong for playoff hockey. They had back to back four goal performances in the middle of the series and if that version of the team can show up each night to take on the Rangers they should be okay.
If that version is going to show up they’re going to need Bobby Ryan to lead the way. He currently leads the team with four goals during the postseason after an up and down year and has looked dominant in front of the net at times. His physical presence combined with soft hands has allowed him to camp out in front of the net and pick up some big time goals for Ottawa.
New York had no problem scoring goals during the regular season but ran into a bit of a snag against Montreal thanks to playing against Carey Price every single night. Now that Price is out of the way we expect the Rangers to average somewhere closer to the 3.07 goals a game that put them in 4th during the regular season.
The Rangers come at you fast with a balanced attack and had eight different goal scorers during their series with Montreal. Mats Zuccarello led the way with three goals but most impressive was the return of Michael Grabner. After starting off the season on a scorching pace Grabner cooled right off for the second half of the year. He’s back at it with two goals so far and if the Rangers can get him going against the Senators he could be their secret weapon.
Ottawa’s defense has been stellar this season thanks in large part to the best player in hockey along the blueline in Erik Karlsson. The Swedish phenom was at it again with six assists during round one including two of the prettiest passes we’ve ever seen. He’s a world class player and the best skater on the ice. He’s also playing with a hairline fracture in his heel though, and if he goes down again the Senators could be in huge trouble.
Still, Ottawa survived without him down the stretch of the regular season and still have some big time players that can step up along the blueline. Dion Phaneuf and Marc Methot have stepped up in a major way and Phaneuf already has a game winning goal in overtime under his belt in these playoffs. Ottawa controls the puck and the neutral zone better than almost anyone and it could be tough for the Rangers to generate anything on offense.
New York had some issues stopping the puck during the regular season but were lights out against the Canadiens. While it’s true Montreal lacks firepower up front, so does Ottawa and the Rangers’ game plan should more or less stay the same. In New York’s last three wins against Montreal they allowed just four goals and their captain Ryan McDonagh played a huge part in the accomplishment.
McDonagh is not the same flashy player Karlsson is but he certainly knows how to stop a rush. He has the size, speed and skill to keep up with any forwards the Senators throw at him and isn’t afraid to battle in front of the net. His teammates look up to him and he’s constantly leading by example out on the ice. Don’t be surprised if McDonagh has the better series than Karlsson when all is said and done.
The biggest factor for who wins this series may come in net. After a disappointing regular season by his standards Henrik Lundqvist was brilliant against the Canadiens in round one. King Henrik started off slow but finished with a 1.70 goals against average and a .947 save percentage. Whatever difficulties he was having during the regular season appear to be far behind him.
Opposite him is Craig Anderson who has had his own troubles this season, although very different ones. After missing a large chunk of time to be with his ailing wife, Anderson has returned better than ever. He finished round 1 with a 1.94 goals against average and a .921 save percentage and even added a shutout to boot. He’s capable of taking over games single handedly and this should turn out to be another strong goalie battle.
Erik Karlsson against Henrik Lundqvist. The two Swedes will be on different teams when they hit the ice on Thursday night. After playing together on team Sweden they have a mutual respect and understanding for one another but will leave that at the door when the puck drops. Karlsson drives this entire Ottawa team while Lundqvist is the backbone that protects the Rangers. Which one will win out?
Ottawa was extremely impressive during their round 1 win over Boston but the Rangers have more depth and talent up front to score important goals when they matter. Take New York in Game 1 and in the series.