There’s nothing quite like the Stanley Cup playoffs and we’re bearing witness to one of the greatest first rounds in recent memory. While teams like St. Louis and Nashville storm ahead to 3-0 upsets, the Maple Leafs and Capitals have gone to overtime in three straight games. A little known rookie in Pittsburgh is scoring at will while a grinder in Edmonton is dishing out back to back game-winners.
This is how it works in hockey. The hardest working teams rise to the top and unknown heroes are crowned every single day. It makes for incredible entertainment and even better betting opportunities and as always we’re here to help you try and find an edge. Buckle up and get ready to see teams bow out of the first round as we start the long journey to the Stanley Cup. Let’s get to it!
Minnesota Wild (-1.5)
St. Louis Blues (+1.5)
Total: 5 (EVENo, -130u)
Minnesota (-115) at St. Louis (-115)
Our second elimination game in as many days comes courtesy of the Wild and Blues on Wednesday night. After dominating for the majority of the regular season the Minnesota Wild limped into the playoffs and brought their poor performance down the stretch with them. Thanks to their inability to score the Wild are now facing the very real possibility of being swept by the Blues and bettors and fans alike are shocked.
St. Louis was as inconsistent as anyone this season but found their legs at the end of the year and are now showing the rest of the league they’re gunning for a lot more than just a competitive series against Minnesota. The Blues are still in search of their first Stanley Cup as a franchise and their future is looking a little brighter having stormed out of the gate to a 3-0 lead against one of the best teams in the regular season.
While teams rarely (four times to be exact) come back from 3-0 deficits the Wild aren’t your average team. They finished the year with 106 points thanks to an excellent 49-25-8 record and ranked in the top ten in defense and offense on the year. They took care of business on the road as well with a 22-13-6 record and will be leaning on that experience to try and dig themselves out of a while on Wednesday night. Minnesota may very well be packing their bags early, but they’re not about to go down without a fight.
It’s been well documented that the Minnesota Wild are having trouble scoring the puck against the St. Louis Blues in their three games thus far. After averaging 3.16 goals a game this season the Wild have managed to score less than that…in three total games. Minnesota has scored exactly a goal a game in this three game series so far and regardless of how well your defense plays you simply can’t win in the playoffs with a lack of firepower up front.
It’s difficult to point the blame to just a few players as the entire team has failed to generate any offense but you can start with Mikael Granlund and Eric Staal. After combining for 124 points during the regular season the two Wild forwards have combined for just two points over their first three games. Neither has found the back of the net and both are starting to look timid with the puck on their stick. That’s the effect playing against a good goalie can have but these two will need to take a few more chances and grind out some dirty goals if they want to jumpstart their team’s offense.
To be fair to Minnesota, their lack of goals hasn’t been due to a lack of trying. The Wild have fired 117 shots on net in just three games for a ridiculous average of 37 a night. They’re doing their best to crash the net and beat Jake Allen in any way possible but they may have started to get in their own heads. While the Wild are doing an excellent job at getting shots on net, the quality of their chances are far below what we expect from a team that was so dominant in the regular season. Minnesota isn’t blessed with the most skilled players in the entire NHL, but they compete each night and play a complete game. We continue to expect a better effort each night from the Wild but unless they show us something on Wednesday night their goose is cooked.
In St. Louis the Blues have done just enough to let their incredible goaltending take over. While the Wild have struggled to score goals it’s not like the Blues are blowing them out of the water. St. Louis has now totaled just seven goals over their last three games which is less than three a night. They’ve gotten timely goals from unlikely sources and it’s been enough to catapult them to a 3-0 series lead. To put things into perspective of just how unlikely their offensive contributors have been keep in mind Joel Edmundson. Edmundson has played 136 NHL games in his career and has a total of four goals. Two of those have come in this series alone as he benefits from the classic “right place, right time” mindset. We don’t want to go as far as saying the Blues have been lucky, but they’ve certainly been fortunate.
While Edmundson’s goals may be a blit flukey, the play of Jaden Schwartz has been downright inspiring. After scoring just one goal (an empty netter) in 25 games earlier in the year Schwartz has found his touch and now leads the team in points thanks to two goals in this series. He’s excellent at controlling the puck and finding room for himself on the ice thanks to his excellent skating. His slump that started back in January appears to be a thing of the past and the Blues are taking full advantage.
Both teams have played well enough on defense, and while the Blues deserve a lot of credit as a team for holding the Wild to just three goals in their first three games, it hasn’t exactly been easy. As we mentioned before St. Louis has given up 117 shots in their three games thus far and while their goalie continues to bail them out, that’s hardly a recipe for succeeding in the NHL playoffs.
After losing Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline the Blues rallied to play some inspired defense down the stretch of the regular season but have fallen apart a bit in the playoffs. It’s hard to tell with their 3-0 series lead but if the Wild could finish a few more of their scoring chances this series could easily be the other way around. St Louis will need to do a better job of limiting the shots on net on Wednesday night which won’t be easy against a Wild team facing elimination.
That same Wild team will also need to stay focused on defense. They’ve given themselves a chance to win each night by allowing just seven total goals but seem to lack focus when the game gets tight in their own end. Maybe it’s the ever-present danger of Vladimir Tarasenko or the fact that they’re watching their season slip away but they need to be more focused on picking up players in front of the net.
Ryan Suter has been a rock along the blueline for this team all season long and he’ll need to dig deep for a big performance on Wednesday night if he wants to keep his team alive. He led the league in plus/minus at several points during the season but can’t do it all by himself.
Suter has gotten as much help as he can really ask for from Devan Dubnyk. A shaky final third of the regular season had many people questioning whether Dubnyk was ready for the playoffs and the answer is a resounding yes. Despite being in a 3-0 hole Dubnyk has played exactly like a starting goalie should. In his three starts he has a 1.87 goals against average and a .923 save percentage but just happens to be going up against arguably the hottest goalie in the world right now.
To say Jake Allen has been the most important player for the Blues this series is the understatement of the playoffs. Despite a lack of shutouts like Cam Talbot’s two, Allen has been calm, cool and consistent. He’s given up exactly one goal a game on a total of 117 shots and has his goals against average at exactly 1.00 with a ridiculous save percentage of .974. He’s simply unphased right now and as locked in as a goalie can get.
Mikael Granlund against Jake Allen. The NHL doesn’t rely on their stars to take over games but sometimes it calls for it and now is one of those times. With his team facing a do or die situation Granlund will need to capture some of the magic that helped him lead his team with 69 points this season. It won’t be easy against the wall that is Jake Allen, but he’ll need to try.
No one was expecting the Wild to be down 3-0 and yet here we are. Minnesota feels like too good of a team to get swept and their play indicates they still have time to turn this around. They’re getting excellent odds on the road and we like their chances to win at least one. Take the Wild on the moneyline.
Washington Capitals (-1.5)
Toronto Maple Leafs (+1.5)
Total: 5.5 (+105o, -125u)
Washington (-150) at Toronto (+120)
If you ever need to explain what’s so great about the Stanley Cup playoffs just turn them in the direction of this series. All three games have gone to overtime and after Tyler Bozak tipped in a slap-pass from Nazem Kadri in Monday night to seal the deal for Toronto, the Maple Leafs are somehow suddenly leading the Capitals 2-1 in a best of seven series.
Washington entered Game 1 with the highest point total in the NHL, finishing with a 55-19-8 overall record and 118 points. That’s a full 23 points higher than the Toronto Maple Leafs who finished with a 40-27-15 record and 95 points, and yet here we are. The Capitals have been repeatedly called choke artists for their inability to win meaningful games in the postseason despite finishing most years as one of (if not THE) best team during the regular season. Now Washington needs to avoid being labeled that again as they try and escape Toronto and head back home with the series all tied up.
That might be easier said than done with the way the Leafs are playing. After losing more games than any single team in overtime and the shootout Toronto has now won back to back games in the extra frame and are growing more and more comfortable right before our eyes. Rookie of the Year favorite Auston Matthews scored his first career playoff goal on Monday night and now Matthews and fellow rookies William Nylander and Mitch Marner have all scored in their playoff careers. The rookies were supposed to be overwhelmed by the firepower of the Capitals but thanks to some good coaching, help from teammates and of course strong individual efforts they look right at home going up against Washington.
It hasn’t been all about the rookies for Toronto though. Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri connected for the overtime winner and are two of the longest serving members of the club. Bozak is tied with Morgan Rielly for the team lead in points and Toronto’s balanced and deep attack continues to keep them in games. Kasperi Kapanen has been nothing short of a breath of life on the fourth line and already has two goals to call his own for this Leafs team.
Washington still has plenty of time to turn this series around, and the skill to do so. After storming out to a 2-0 lead in Game 3 it looked like the Capitals were ready to put the upstart Leafs to bed but Washington failed to convert on numerous powerplay chances, including a long five on three opportunity. That cost them in the end as the Leafs roared back in front of their raucous home crowd to take the lead.
Now Washington needs to find a way to match the energy and intensity that Toronto has been playing with. As skilled as they are, the Caps continue to lose battles for the puck and seem intimidated at times by the hard-hitting style of the Leafs. Nazem Kadri continues to bowl people over and Washington will need to answer in kind on Wednesday night.
Jake Gardiner against Alex Ovechkin. The Great 8 has done his part with two goals in three games for Washington but will need to keep his foot on the gas against Gardiner and the Leafs. With Toronto dealing with injuries along their blue line Gardiner has had to step up in a major way. He has played over 26 minutes in all three games including a ridiculous 40 minutes in Game 2. If Gardiner starts to lose some steam Ovechkin and Washington could Cap-italize (sorry).
The Leafs are no longer just a feel good story after splitting games in Washington. They came back down 2-0 on their own ice and get to play there again on Wednesday night. They’re getting great odds considering they’re the home team and we can’t say no to that. Take Toronto on the moneyline.
Ottawa Senators (+1.5)
Boston Bruins (-1.5)
Total: 5 (-115o, -115u)
Ottawa (+135) at Boston (-165)
The Senators finished higher than Boston in the standings during the regular season but thanks to a long list of injuries and a lack of offense many people had the Bruins winning round 1 easily. Like many other series during these playoffs, the analysts have been wrong and the savvy bettors have taken advantage. After a huge overtime win on Monday night the Senators now lead the best of seven series two games to one and seem determined to head back home with a 3-1 series lead.
Ottawa was supposed to struggle scoring the puck in this series and after losing Game 1 2-1 it seemed like that might be the reality. Instead the Sens responded by generating rushes from the blueline out and have now scored four goals in back to back games. While it has been a team effort overall, Erik Karlsson continues to drive the bus. As long as he’s setting up goals like this, the Senators will be a hard team to stop even for the likes of the defensively-sound Bruins.
Boston did an excellent job of shutting down Ottawa’s forwards in Game 1 but since then have found it difficult to stop their rushes. They’ve had a particularly hard time with Bobby Ryan who we highlighted as being an x-factor at the start of the season. After a relatively quiet year that was cut short to just 62 games thanks to injury Ryan has exploded in the playoffs for two goals and two assists in just four games. At six foot two and 204 lbs he’s not exactly small and he’s been using his size and great hands to his advantage throughout this series.
The Bruins meanwhile are playing strong hockey, but simply allowing too many goals. Zdeno Chara may be finally losing a step along the blue line, and while he’s still the biggest player on the ice every night it doesn’t help if you’re also the slowest. He’s now a -1 for the series with just one assist and the Senators are skating around him instead of through him whenever they can. He’ll need to dig deep to find that extra gear that has carried the Bruins deep in the past but they may be running out of time if the Senators manage to win another game on the road.
Bobby Ryan against Tuukka Rask. If your team is letting in four goals a night chances are your goalie can be playing a bit better. That’s certainly the case with Rask who has fallen off after allowing just one goal in the series opener. He allowed two goals on ten shots in the first period and can’t afford to fall behind again. In order to do that he’ll need to stop Bobby Ryan who has been the Senators’ best forward in this series so far.
These two teams are evenly matched and the Bruins are too well-coached and too deep to roll over at home. Expect Brad Marchand to pick up his play and Chara to be a little more physical in Game 4 on their way to a big win to even the series. Take the Bruins on the spread.
Anaheim Ducks (+1.5)
Calgary Flames (-1.5)
Total: 5 (-145o, +115u)
Anaheim (-115) at Calgary (-115)
It’s amazing what a difference a period can make. The Calgary Flames should be playing their second game at home with a chance to tie the series but thanks to a late-game collapse they’re now playing for their playoff lives. The Ducks took a commanding 3-0 series lead after trailing 4-1 to start the third period and roaring all the way back to win in overtime.
Anaheim continues to dominate Calgary regardless of the circumstances. They’ve now won nine of their last ten games against the Ducks and have a chance to make it 10 of 11 and move on to the second round of the playoffs on Wednesday night. Despite being the best team at protecting a lead after two periods during the regular season the Flames collapsed in the third period and now have a long uphill battle ahead of them in order to save their season. Calgary also had a goal disallowed on a very controversial call which simply added to their heartbreak. As strong as the Flames have been this season it’s difficult to bounce back from a game like that no matter how well you’ve played throughout the year.
If Calgary is going to somehow mount a comeback they’ll need to grab the lead early and hold on to it for a change. Sean Monahan has been by far the Flames’ best player during the playoffs with three goals in as many games and they’ll be looking for him to ignite the offense again. The Ducks are missing some key players along the blueline including their most notable absentee in Cam Fowler, and Calgary hasn’t done a good enough job exploiting that throughout this series.
Calgary’s deficit can’t just be blamed on their lack of consistent offense though. After such a strong stretch of play during the regular season Brian Elliott has seemingly gone missing for the Flames in net. He stopped just 22 of 27 shots in his last outing and now has a save percentage of just .887 in the series. The Ducks play a physical style of hockey and that often means Elliott has to deal with some pretty big bodies in front of his net. If he can’t figure out a way to get better vision of the puck it could be golfing season pretty soon for the Flames.
Johnny Gaudreau against Ryan Getzlaf. Getzlaf has been the consummate pro for the Ducks in this series and is getting the job done on both ends of the ice. He’s been physical with the Flames and Gaudreau when he’s had the chance and now gets the opportunity to send them packing. “Johnny Hockey” hasn’t scored yet in these playoffs and his team could definitely use a goal or two on Wednesday night.
The Ducks look like arguably the best team in the playoffs right now and have showed no signs of slowing down. Despite missing Cam Fowler they’ve played strong in their own end and have maintained a physical presence throughout the entire series. With that being said, we’re not a fan of sweeps and Calgary came oh so close in their last game. Take the Flames on the spread and watch them live to see another day.
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