We’re only a week into playoff hockey and we already have one team facing elimination on Tuesday night. With just two other games on schedule there’s plenty of time to sink your teeth into each matchup and get the most information possible before you place your bet as the action heats up.
The playoffs have reached the point where teams have seen enough of one another to get a good idea of what’s going to happen next, and to adjust accordingly. It doesn’t always work, and with some teams facing huge uphill battles it may be a bit too late but it’s still a good strategy to look for possible upsets. As much as we can measure a team’s ability to succeed on the powerplay or score goals at even strength, we can’t measure their will to win when their backs are against the wall. With one team already facing a do-or-die situation on Tuesday night it may be the perfect time to pounce on the underdog. Let’s get to it!
Pittsburgh Penguins (+1.5)
Columbus Blue Jackets (-1.5)
Pittsburgh (-115) at Columbus (-115)
It would be a disservice to make our feature game anything other than our first elimination game of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With the way the new NHL is set up, we’re forced to watch two of the best teams in the league battle it out in the first round and the results have not been pretty for the Blue Jackets. Columbus has lost three in a row to fall to 0-3 in the series after a heartbreaking overtime loss in their last contest and are now just one loss away from putting away the hockey sticks and pulling out the golf clubs.
We thought a return home for the Jackets would spark Columbus to making this a competitive series but the Pittsburgh Penguins have been here too many times to let that happen easily. They applied the pressure all night long and relied on some unlikely heroes to get the job done on the road.
Now Pittsburgh has a chance to sweep Columbus and start resting some of their banged up players as they await their next opponent. Like any seven game series where one team is down 3-0 the odds don’t favor the Jackets. Only four teams in the history of the NHL have battled back from that deficit in over 182 games. That’s a percent probability of just 2.2 and we’re not confident the Jackets have the talent or experience to become the 5th team to ever do it. Still, that doesn’t mean you have to shy away from betting on them in just one game, does it? Let’s find out.
The Jackets offense woke up in Game 3 after starting out the series with just two goals in two games. With the way Pittsburgh scores, the Jackets knew they had to match their intensity and they brought everything they had on Sunday night. The Jackets opened the scoring just 11 seconds into the first period to give their fans something to cheer for after grabbing their first lead in 120 minutes.
Even more promising for the Jackets was the man responsible for the goal. After a quiet start to the series Cam Atkinson was huge on Sunday night as he opened up with the first goal before firing a backhand for his second of the night to give Columbus another 2-1 lead. The Jackets were humming all over the ice and matching the Penguin’s intensity which isn’t exactly easy to do.
The Jackets were a team that averaged 3.00 goals a game this season to rank 7th in the NHL and that offense had been missing for the first two games. They scored four goals on Sunday night and while it still wasn’t enough to grab the win it was a promising sign. They’ll need to recreate that level of offensive production on Tuesday night with their backs against the wall and the extra desperation might help them get it done.
Meanwhile the Pittsburgh Penguins just keep rolling. Nevermind stars like Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin terrorizing the Jackets’ defense at every opportunity they get, how about Jake Guentzel? If you haven’t heard the name before we don’t blame you. Guentzel became just the second rookie ever to cap off a hat-trick with an overtime winner in the playoffs and when unknown rookies are scoring three goals for the Penguins, chances are they’re going to win the game.
Pittsburgh was relentless getting shots on net again, finishing the night with 47 which proved to be ten more than Columbus. They also won 55 percent of their faceoffs and continue to dominate the puck possession game. Their forwards are simply too skilled and too strong to give up the puck and it results in quality chance after quality chance. While it’s still early, three of the top four playoff scoring leaders are all on Pittsburgh with Evgeni Malkin leading the charge with 6 points. It just goes to show you how balanced and dangerous this team can be and the Jackets will need to find a way to slow them down in a hurry.
It’s never easy to stop the Penguins and it just got harder for the Jackets. Columbus has lost arguably their best defenseman for the remainder of the playoffs after Zach Werenski went down with a facial fracture on Sunday. He was injured in Game 3 after blocking a Phil Kessel shot with his face. While he returned for the third period wearing a protective mask the injury is simply too severe for him to continue.
Werenski will have a long career ahead of him as the rookie was firmly in the Calder Trophy conversation this season, but he’ll need to watch from the sidelines on Tuesday night. Seth Jones and Jack Johnson will need to step up in a major way and take on some of the 20+ minutes Werenski was logging each night. It’s not an easy task to stop the Penguins at the best of times, and now the Jackets will need to really dig deep facing a 3-0 hole.
The Penguins meanwhile are doing their best to limit the opposition despite being without some of their key contributors along the blueline. After losing Kris Letang for the season they’ve needed everyone to step up. All six of their defensemen logged more than 20 minutes on Sunday but Olli Maatta was the star. Despite four goals being scored against the Pens Maatta still finished as a +1 on the night and now leads the NHL in playoff plus/minus rating at +4.
Pittsburgh may still give up too many shots and the four goals they allowed in Game 3 was a sight for sore eyes but as long as they continue to limit turnovers and get some help from their forwards the Penguins will be just fine. They score enough to weather most storms and with the way Maatta is playing they’re confident they can lock down anyone.
This is turning into a nightmare for the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy. After leading the league in goals against average and save percentage Sergei Bobrovsky has been rudely awakened to what it’s like to play against the Pittsburgh Penguins every night. Over his first three games in this series he’s given up 11 goals for a goals against average of 3.49 and a save percentage of just .897. While his defense needs to improve in front of him, he seems shaky going against the Penguins every night and will need to improve drastically if the Jackets want to survive.
Opposite him is Fleury who has strong numbers thanks to his first two games but seemed human after giving up four goals in Game 3. The Jackets know they can get to him now, especially on home ice, and they’ll be gunning for goals early. Fleury has the tendency to go streaking in the wrong direction and the losses could pile up if the Jackets keep exposing his weaknesses.
Sergei Bobrovsky against Evgeni Malkin. Malkin is playing like a man possessed at the moment and it could be due to missing 13 games at the end of the regular season. He leads the NHL in playoff points with 6 and is hungry to add another Stanley Cup to his resume. He won’t take Game 4 lightly and Bobrovsky will need to play his best game of the series yet to hold him off.
Maybe it’s the drama of a do or die situation or the fact that the Jackets just scored four goals, are still playing at home, and need to win this game or watch their series end. Regardless of the reasons we love the Jackets’ chances to win a statement game and extend this series. Take Columbus on the spread.
Montreal Canadiens (+1.5)
New York Rangers (-1.5)
Total: 5.5 (+105o, -135u)
Montreal (-115) at New York (-115)
Leave it to one of the meanest looking guys in the NHL to score one of the prettiest goals. If you haven’t seen it yet, then enjoy the rest of your day as you put that goal on repeat. Alexander Radulov came up huge again for the Montreal Canadiens and after being shutout 2-0 in Game 1 the Habs now hit the ice for Game 4 with a 2-1 series lead over the New York Rangers.
With so much fuss being made over the Canadiens’ inability to score the puck they answered their critics with seven goals over their last two games. Montreal pushed the tempo all night on the road in New York and never trailed thanks to a relentless attack and some incredible goaltending. The Canadiens outshot the Rangers 29 to 21 on the evening and were unbelievable on the powerplay where they scored on two of their three chances. Thanks to the play of Shea Weber, Montreal finished with the 12th best powerplay in all of hockey and it was on full display against the Rangers.
It felt like all of the skill players on the Canadiens answered the bell on Sunday night with their team needing a win on the road. Brendan Gallagher was a menace in front of the net and finished the night with an assist and two hits. Alex Galchenyuk finished with an assist and won 67 percent of his faceoffs despite playing on the fourth line and Alexander Radulov was the star of the game with his beautiful goal and another assist. If those three can stay hot while Max Pacioretty finds his touch the Canadiens could be a very tough team to beat.
The Rangers are well aware of their skill now and will be trying to find their offense again after almost being shutout in Game 3. They didn’t score a goal until just under three minutes remaining in the game when Brady Skjei just fired one on net and that’s not going to cut it against the Habs now that they’ve found some offense.
New York fired only 21 shots on net and when the goalie trying to save those shots is Carey Price, you’re in trouble. We expected a big game from Price and he delivered, allowing just the one goal for the Canadiens as the game winded down. He’s locked in and knows how important his play is to his team. New York did an excellent job of getting bodies in front of the net in their first two games but failed to create any meaningful traffic in front of the net in Game 3. They’ll need their big bodies to take some lumps in front if they want to get goals past Price.
The Rangers know how to score goals. They finished fourth in goals per game this season at 3.08 but unless they start playing a tougher style of hockey on offense they may find it difficult to just wire pucks past one of the best goalies in the league. Expect Mats Zuccarello to step up in front of the home crowd fans now that his team is down 2-1 in the series.
Rick Nash against Shea Weber. Nash has been relatively quiet in this series with just one goal and zero assists but now that his team is down 2-1 they’ll need him to be more productive on offense. Thanks to spending so many years in Columbus, Nash has only played 68 of his 989 career games in the postseason and may still be a little rusty. He needs to use his size more in front of the net but that also means battling the equally large and intimidating Shea Weber.
This series has the feeling of going the distance with both teams evenly matched and experienced enough to bounce back from losses. The Rangers would kick themselves if they went back to Montreal down 3-1 in the series and we fully expect New York to even it up on Tuesday night. Take the Rangers on the moneyline in another close one.
Edmonton Oilers (+1.5)
San Jose Sharks (-1.5)
Total: 5 (EVENo, -130u)
Edmonton (-110) at San Jose (-120)
If we told you to predict the two biggest stars in this series many people would aim for the likes of Connor McDavid and Brent Burns. Yet here we are with the Oilers grabbing a 2-1 series lead against one of the most experienced teams in the playoffs and the stars are of the lesser known variety. Cam Talbot and Zach Kassian have been the difference makers for an Edmonton team that relied on the skill of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl all season long and San Jose simply hasn’t been able to keep up with the new heroes.
Talbot was strong during the regular season with a 2.39 goals against average and a .919 save percentage but what he’s done against the Sharks in these playoffs has been out of this world. Talbot recorded his second shutout in as many games against San Jose and now owns a 0.98 goals against average with a .964 save percentage. He’s faced 83 shots and let in just three goals and each one of them came in Game 1. He’s as locked in as a goalie can be now and the Oilers are making the most of it.
Edmonton’s offense was supposed to be their strong suit in this series with their fast, young forwards but their defense has stepped up to give them a 2-1 series lead. Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell were brilliant at blocking shots again and combined for nine in Game 3. They also led the team in ice-time and are turning into two of the best defensemen we’ve seen in the playoffs so far. As strong as they’ve been, and as dynamite as Cam Talbot has looked in net, you can’t talk about the Oilers’ success without mentioning Zach Kassian.
Kassian scored the only goal of the game to lead Edmonton to their second straight win after scoring the game winner in their last contest as well. He’s been lighting up the Sharks with his strong physical play as well and finished the night with another three hits. He’s playing the exact type of energy his team needs to contend with the experienced Sharks and San Jose will need to dig deep to find some skaters capable of matching his intensity.
The Sharks played well but still found trouble generating offense. If you limit a team to just one goal you should be able to win that game almost every single time but now San Jose has gone scoreless in two straight. Joe Thornton made his return and looked strong in over 16 minutes of ice time and maybe he’ll be ready to help produce now that he has his legs back under him. Brent Burns was incredible at generating offense during the regular season from the blue line but now that he needs to focus more on the likes of McDavid, Draisaitl and Kassian he’s been less aggressive with the puck. He finished Game 3 with three shots on net but will need to up the ante if San Jose wants to even this series.
Zach Kassian against Joe Thornton. Kassian is having his way with the Sharks right now and no one seems able to stop him. Big Joe knows a thing or two about dishing out hits and will need to lead by example now that he’s back in the lineup for San Jose. Expect these two to have a few run-ins on Tuesday night.
San Jose is too deep and experienced to continue this scoring drought even against a hot goalie. Their defense has played well and it’s only a matter of time before they put some pucks in the net. Take the Sharks on the spread at home and watch the offense smarten up.
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