Thursday Night Playoff Hockey April 20

by Cameron Dorrett
on April 20, 2017

Two more elimination games find their way onto our TV screens on Thursday night as the Playoffs near their round one conclusion. If you missed on some of your series bets don’t worry. You can still reclaim some of those lost wagers on individual games and there’s plenty of intriguing storylines going forward.

The themes of this year’s Playoffs so far have been upsets and overtimes. We have two #8 seeds leading their series and almost every other game seems to go into extra time. It makes for some entertaining hockey, but also makes it tough on bettors. Be sure to keep a cool head and trust the information before placing a wager. The NHL playoffs might be crazy, but you don’t have to be. Let’s get to it!

Chicago Blackhawks (+1.5)
VS
Nashville Predators (-1.5)
Total: 5 (-145o, +115u)

Moneyline

  • Chicago (-105) at Nashville (-125)

The Blackhawks are a very good hockey team. They finished the season as the number one seed in the Western Conference thanks to 109 points with a 50-23-9 record. Their reward for their excellent regular season was a date with the Nashville Predators and suddenly, Chicago does not look like a very good hockey team. Despite looking like the strongest team in the entire NHL for the second half of the season and starting this series on home ice,the Blackhawks are somehow facing elimination at the hands of the Predators.

Chicago is down 3-0 and fighting for their playoff lives after many people predicted them to lift the Stanley Cup when all was said and done. We’ve gone over the probabilities a few times on this site but just to refresh your memory: Only four teams in the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs have battled back from a 3-0 deficit. Luckily for the Blackhawks, they certainly have the personnel to become the 5th. This is a talented team full of proven playoff performers who know a thing or two about winning the Stanley Cup. Nashville has this series all but locked up, but we wouldn’t count out Chicago just yet.

Offense

Chicago’s biggest problem in this series has been scoring goals. After averaging 2.89 goals a game this season and ranking 11th in that department the Blackhawks have totaled just two goals in this series. For those of you who think that is a typo please feel free to read again: The high powered offense that belongs to the Chicago Blackhawks is responsible for just two goals in three games. Making things worse is the fact that both of those goals came in just one game.

If there’s anything to lean on for Chicago perhaps it’s the fact that both of their tallies came in the last game they played. They fell to Nashville 3-2 after being shutout in the first two games and this could be a sign that the offense is finally waking up. It’s impossible to put the blame on any one player considering the entire team has combined for just two goals but Marian Hossa is a good place to start.

Hossa has 52 goals and 97 assists in 204 career playoff games but has been held off the scoresheet in every single contest so far against the Predators. At the age of 38 the speed and physicality of the game may be finally catching up to him but he still has a quick release and a deft set of hands. The Predators have done an excellent job at limiting shots on net but Hossa needs to find his touch before the Blackhawks bow out of this series. His veteran leadership and experience needs to account for something and Chicago could sure use a goal or two out of number 81.

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have both combined for just two points and we expect a whole lot more out of two of the top ten players in the NHL. Kane broke out of his slump with a goal in Game 3 but Toews has yet to find the back of the net. Considering he is leaned on for his defense as well Toews has truly turned in a brutal series so far. He’s a -3 in three games and is having trouble matching the physical nature and speed of the Predators’ forwards. If he’s not going to score, he needs to at least make sure the other team isn’t doing it either.

That other team has been doing it though, and by the bucketful. The Predators have now tallied nine goals in three games thanks to their 5-0 win in Game 2 and clearly aren’t afraid of the Blackhawks’ defensive core. Nashville ranked below Chicago in goals per game this season and still don’t have a true superstar forward on their roster, but a few guys are doing their share of becoming one.

Ryan Johansen has been nothing short of spectacular for the Predators in the postseason. He leads the team in assists with four and points with five and is also their number one face-off man. He’s won just over 56 percent of his draws and is a major reason why Nashville has had such an easy time controlling the zone and eventually scoring goals. Joining him in the “big player” department is teammate Filip Forsberg.

When the 18 year old joined the Preds he was just a project but he’s evolved into a 30 goal scorer that can light up the net at a moment’s notice. He had back to back hat tricks during the regular season and was dynamite in Game 3 for Nashville. With Chicago leading 2-0 in the third period Forsberg took it upon himself to change the momentum. He scored back to back goals to force overtime and now the Predators have their first 3-0 series lead in franchise history. Chicago may have some bigger names on the backs of their jerseys, but Nashville has the names that are finding the back of the net.

Defense

What more can be said about how well the Predators have played in their own end? Nashville has given up just two goals in their three straight wins and while Pekka Rinne is a huge part of that so are their physical blueliners. Nashville’s two best defensemen were consistently hurt during the regular season and played far fewer games than they would have liked together but now that P.K. Subban and Roman Josi are healthy it’s all good in Smashville. Subban is often criticized for being an offense-first blueliner but he’s risen to the occasion in this series. He is a +2 with an assist and has focused far more on stopping the Blackhawks than scoring on them. Josi has an assist as well and is a +3 for the series. He’s been spectacular at limiting Kane and Toews and continues to eat up valuable minutes on the powerplay.

The Predators are also getting some big time games out of Ryan Ellis. At just five foot ten and 180 pounds Ellis isn’t exactly the biggest player on the ice, especially for a defenseman. He’s smart though and has a knack for creating offense at just the right moment. His goal and assist lead the defensive scoring for the Predators and his +3 rating is tied with Josi. The Blackhawks will need to be more physical with Ellis if they want to throw him off his game.

As for the Blackhawks’ defense, they’ve actually been better than the numbers would suggest. Yes, they’ve let in nine goals in three games but five of those came in Game 2 and one came in overtime. Outside of one bad performance Chicago has played well enough to win at least one game, if not two. Despite being outscored 9-2 in the series Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell both enter Game 4 with an even plus/minus rating and have done their part in limiting the Predators on offense.

We’d still like to see a better effort from Duncan Keith though. Keith is tied for last in plus/minus rating on the team at -4 despite having one of the lone assists on the club. He’s looked slower than usual and the high intensity of the Predators might be catching up to him. Keith is still one of the best blueliners in the game though and has a well of experience to draw from. If he can get back on track in time for Game 4 the Blackhawks can make a series of this yet.

Goalies

Nashville has been downright dominant at limiting shots, but the ones that do get by are gobbled up by their goalie. Pekka Rinne has been lights out so far in the postseason after allowing his first two goals of the series in Game 3. He’s battling Jake Allen for the best goaltender in the playoffs so far and enters Game 4 with a ridiculous 0.67 goals against average and a .979 save percentage.

Opposite him is Corey Crawford and he’s been unfairly piled on for the Blackhawks’ hole. Crawford has been ridiculous during the series outside of the five goal game with a save percentage of .950 in Game 1 and .949 in Game 3. He stopped 46 of 49 shots in his last outing and simply can’t be blamed for the hole that Blackhawks are in. Still, hockey’s not fair and Crawford will likely need a few out of this world performances if his team wants to survive in this series.

Key Matchup

Duncan Keith against Ryan Johansen. Johansen has been all over the ice for the Predators in this series and responsible for generating so much of their offense. Keith meanwhile has looked like a shell of his former self and hopefully the do or die scenario of Game 4 will wake him up a bit. He has his hands full with how well the Preds are playing right now but if anyone can slow them down a bit it’s Keith.

Advice

We all know the chances of Chicago coming back to win this series, but if anyone is capable of it it’s certainly the Blackhawks. They’ll need to start with a win on Thursday night and with the odds they’re getting we’ll take them to stave off elimination for one more game. Take Chicago on the moneyline.

Pick

Chicago
3
Nashville
1
Columbus Blue Jackets (+1.5)
VS
Pittsburgh Penguins (-1.5)
Total: 5.5 (-135o, +105u)

Moneyline

  • Columbus (+170) at Pittsburgh (-210)

The Penguins had the chance to wrap this series up with a sweep in Columbus but couldn’t get the job done against the Jackets who were facing a do or die situation. Sidney Crosby said after the game that the Jackets played with more desperation and they’re likely to do the same for as many games as they have remaining in this series. As badly as the Penguins want to move on there’s simply no way to recreate the feeling of a team that is actually facing elimination. That’s where the Jackets are now but at least they have two strong performances to lean on.

After being heartbroken in overtime in Game 3 the Jackets scored five goals in Game 4 and held on in the dying seconds for the 5-4 win. Their offense woke up in a major way back at home as they treated their fans to their first ever win in regulation on home ice during the playoffs. They’re just 3-11 as a franchise now but all of those wins have come against Pittsburgh and there may be something left in the tank just yet.

Columbus was still shaky on defense in allowing four goals and in a game where Sergei Bobrovsky likely needed to be brilliant his offense bailed him out. Bob the Goalie has looked nothing like his regular season self and is now just 1-3 in the series with a 3.61 goals against average and an .891 save percentage. We don’t blame him for struggling against the best offense in the league but we do expect a little more magic out of the probable Vezina winner. Bobrovsky may be saving his best performance for another elimination game and the Jackets and their fans certainly hope so.

The Penguins won’t do Bobrovsky any favors though. Despite losing Game 4 they still hold a 3-1 series lead and piled on another four goals. The unlikely hero Jake Guentzel continues to be dynamite for the Pens. The rookie scored his 5th goal of the season after a hat trick in Game 3 and almost brought the Penguins all the way back from a 3-0 deficit in the game. Pittsburgh has been hard enough to stop with Evgeni Malkin (8), Phil Kessel (6) and Sidney Crosby (5) combined for a ridiculous 19 points through four games but now the Jackets also need to worry about rookies.

Pittsburgh has still looked shaky on defense throughout stretches of this series and have now allowed nine goals over their last two games. Their offense is strong enough to hold on to the win in those situations, but only sometimes as we saw in Game 3. The blueline will need to tighten up on Thursday night to avoid going back to Columbus with just a 3-2 series lead.

Key Matchup

Brandon Saad against Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury wasn’t supposed to be the starting goalie for Pittsburgh but thanks to a last-second injury to Matt Murray he’s taken up the helm. He was excellent in his first two games but has fallen apart over his last two. He gave up five goals on 34 shots in Game 4 and the Pens are hoping the return home will sharpen his senses. He’ll need to play much better with the way Saad is heating up. He leads the Jackets with a goal and two assists and will be itching to find the back of the net again to keep his team in the playoffs.

Advice

Pittsburgh may have shown their weakness over their last two games with their inability to stop the puck but their offense is just too strong to ignore. After realizing it will be difficult to close this Jackets team out we expect them to come out of the gate with a little more energy and put this one to bed early. Take the Penguins on the spread.

Pick

Pittsburgh
4
Columbus
2
New York Rangers (+1.5)
VS
Montreal Canadiens (-1.5)
Total: 4.5 (-140o, +110u)

Moneyline

  • New York (+120) at Montreal (-150)

We rarely see an Over/Under line below five but here we are with the Rangers and Canadiens locked in a low-scoring affair with the series tied at two games apiece and heading back to Montreal. This series had the feeling of going the distance before the first puck dropped and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the sea-saw battle continue on Thursday night.

The Canadiens had the chance to take a commanding 3-1 series lead heading back home but the Rangers rose up to the pressure and shut the door. New York has a history of doing poorly at home in the playoffs recently as the team won for the first time in their last six games on home ice. The series has turned into a battle between netminders which many people predicted and Henrik Lundqvist just punched back after Carey Price was brilliant in Games 2 and 3. King Henrik allowed just one goal on 24 shots and continues to look like his former Vezina Trophy winning self. It’s the second times in four games that he’s given up one goal or less and now has a 2-2 record with a 1.89 goals against average and a .944 save percentage.

Not to be outdone Carey Price was still sharp despite taking the loss and will try to end up in the win column on Thursday night. Price allowed just two goals on 32 shots and neither were his fault. It’s the third time in four games that Price has let in two or fewer goals and he’s now 2-2 with a 2.65 goals against average and a .942 save percentage. These two couldn’t be more evenly matched and we’re excited to see who eventually comes out on top.

As dominant as Price has been the Rangers have started to wake up a bit on offense starting with Rick Nash. Nash scored the game winner in the second period and finished the game with over 16 minutes of ice time and two shots on net. He’s up to two goals in three games during the postseason after missing one with injury and will be huge for Rangers in their quest to get by the Canadiens. Montreal will continue to put Shea Weber on him as often as they can but the Habs’ defensemen is already responsible for so much including the powerplay unit.

Key Matchup

Carey Price against Henrik Lundqvist. These two goalies may have a full generation between them but right now they’re playing at the same level and that’s all that matters in a best of seven series. Neither goalie is particularly flashy but get the job done night in and night out. With each game being so close and low scoring the winner of this series could come down to who controls the bounces more.

Advice

The Rangers were the best regular season team on the road this year and have gone an ice cold 0-12 on the powerplay in this series. We love their odds considering they’re coming off a win and Nash is starting to heat up at the perfect time. Take New York on the moneyline and hope Lundqvist stays as hot as Price.

Pick

New York
3
Montreal
2
San Jose Sharks (+1.5)
VS
Edmonton Oilers (-1.5)
Total: 5 (-105o, -125u)

Moneyline

  • San Jose (+105) at Edmonton (-135)

Bettors and fans of the Edmonton Oilers have seen better games than the 7-0 thrashing they received at the hands of the Sharks in Game 4 but luckily for the Oilers and their supporters this is a best of seven game series and the score doesn’t matter. It’s all locked up at two games apiece and the Oilers have a chance to take the series lead when they return home on Thursday night licking their wounds.

After writing at length of the Sharks’ inability to generate offense against the Oilers San Jose seemed to hear us. The Sharks went bananas against the Oilers with seven unanswered goals after being shutout in back to back games.

San Jose wasted no time getting on the board in Game 4 and a player we called out for needing to step up got the damage done. Joe Pavelski scored 15 seconds into the game to break the drought and the goals just kept on coming. The biggest difference for San Jose was their ability to connect on the powerplay. After staring out the series just 1 for 14 on the powerplay they connected on 4 of 8 opportunities alone in Game 4 and the Oilers will clearly need to be more disciplined in their own end.

After being a star throughout the start of this series Zach Kassian was nowhere to be found in Game 4. The Sharks limited his space on the ice and matched his intensity at every opportunity. They found ways to stay aggressive despite playing with the lead and now understand the effort it takes to keep the Oilers at bay. It was also promising to finally break through Cam Talbot. Talbot was dynamite with back to back shutouts in Games 2 and 3 but looked shaky all night after the early goal. He’ll need to dig deep to regain his confidence for game 5 and a trip back to home ice should help.

We’re also still waiting on Connor McDavid’s signature moment. While he’s done enough to keep his team in a 2-2 tie McDavid has looked pedestrian against the Sharks’ strong defense. After pouring in exactly 100 points during the regular season McDavid is sitting on just two through four games. His goal came shorthanded and he’ll need to find ways to create some more space for himself if the Oilers want to turn this thing around.

Key Matchup

Connor McDavid against Brent Burns. Burns was having a tough series despite forcing shots on net and doing everything he could to generate offense, until Game 4. He didn’t find the back of the net but dished out three assists, blocked three shots, fired five shots on goal and shut down arguably the best player in the league all night. Now Burns will need to match that intensity on the road against McDavid as he searches for some of the magic that catapulted him to the Art Ross Trophy during the regular season.

Advice

Much like the Montreal and New York series, San Jose now has all the momentum despite being the road team. It’s easy to fear a team that just scored seven goals against you and the Oilers may not have the experience or veteran leadership to understand how to hold on. Take San Jose on the spread as McDavid struggles against the Sharks’ defense again.

Pick

San Jose
3
Edmonton
1
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