Wednesday’s NHL Picks 4/26
Well that was fun wasn’t it? The NHL set a record for most overtime games in round one of the playoffs and we saw some huge upsets as well as big time sweeps from big time clubs. The upstart Toronto Maple Leafs pushed the Washington Capitals to six games, the Anaheim Ducks swept the young Calgary Flames and the Nashville Predators surprised everyone when they made quick work of the Chicago Blackhawks with four straight wins.
Those were just some of the exciting story lines from the first round and while the games get fewer and farther in between during the second round, the intensity gets ramped all the way up. Each time is that much closer to the Stanley Cup and the games get that much more meaningful each night. As always, we’re here to help you bet on them and provide a series outlook as well. It’s time for the second round, let’s get to it!
- Nashville (-105) at St. Louis (-115)
The Predators certainly have everyone’s attention now. Nashville made it into the playoffs thanks to a strong second half surge but no one gave them any chance of making any noise during the postseason. In fact, every single one of ESPN’s hockey analysts predicted Chicago would move on. The Predators instead turned in a performance for the ages in upsetting the Blackhawks in four straight games. They are just the third team in NHL history to sweep their first round matchup against the team with the best record in the conference during the regular season. The only other teams to do so were the 1981 Edmonton Oilers and the 1993 St. Louis Blues so if you picked the Predators to get the job done you deserve a pat on the back.
Now they set their sights on the St. Louis Blues who had a pretty decent upset of their own. The Blues rode the hot goaltending of Jake Allen to a first round series win against a very strong Minnesota Wild club. Three of their five games were decided by just one goal and the Blues are already battle tested when it comes to close games. Now they get to play the favorite as they have home ice advantage and were one of the league’s best teams at home all season long. They’re feeling just as confident as the Predators after dispatching a strong opponent of their own and will be itching to open up the series with a win in Game 1.
St. Louis didn’t need a whole lot of offense to get by Minnesota thanks to the outstanding play of Jake Allen. They scored just 11 goals during the five game series but they goals came from all over the ice which is an encouraging sign of things to come. Three goals were by defensemen and one of the eight goals from their forwards was on an empty net. Six different forwards for St. Louis have scored so far during the playoffs and it’s clear that anyone on the Blues is comfortable putting the puck in the back of the net.
One player that needs to get going is Vladimir Tarasenko. He scored 39 goals during the regular season and was by far the best forward on the Blues during the year. He has just one goal and two assists through five games which is by no means a slump, but can greatly improve. The Blues are only as good as their best player on any given night and while Jake Allen has been that player most games Tarasenko needs to take over.
In Nashville, the Predators needed just four games to get rid of the Blackhawks and a big reason for that was their ability to score the puck. Nashville had six different forwards score 10 of their excellent 13 goals during four games against a strong Chicago defense and the Predators are clearly for real. Like any great team their top line has been their best during the postseason and we expect that trend to continue. Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson have combined for 15 points including five goals and 10 assists.
If James Neal can get going the Predators would be even more dangerous. Neal was third on the team in goals with 23 during the regular season but has yet to score during the playoffs. He has just one assist and while not scoring in four games isn’t a huge deal it’s also not a great sign from a player that is supposed to be one of the best natural goal scorers on the team. He needs to pick it up.
Both teams played excellent defense in their first round series and while a lot of that had to do with their goaltending credit still needs to be given to the guys who are playing along the blueline. Nashville was incredible at slowing Chicago down all over the ice and their forwards’ ability to backcheck did not go unnoticed.
They come to every game with two of the best defensemen in the NHL in Roman Josi and P.K. Subban but one player quietly had an excellent first round series and will be a big factor again in Round 2. Mattias Ekholm isn’t exactly a household name but was incredibly solid with an assist and a plus 4 rating during the first round. He’s been playing huge minutes in a pairing with P.K. Subban and was instrumental in shutting down Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane who finished the series with just one goal each.
The Blues are no strangers to playing strong defense either and while a ton of credit needs to be given to Jake Allen there were still some skaters standing in front of him. After trading away Kevin Shattenkirk at the deadline to avoid losing him for nothing in the offseason the Blues’ depth along the blueline thinned out dramatically. Alex Pietrangelo was there to fill the gap and averaged 29 minutes and 51 seconds of ice-time during round one. That was the second most of any player and he’ll be leaned on heavily again.
This is where the big matchup is as both goalies played incredibly well in round 1. Jake Allen was brilliant for the Blues. After being given a mental break during the regular season thanks to his struggles he bounced back in a major way in time for the playoffs. He stopped 174 of 182 shots and finished with a .956 save percentage during the first round.
Not to be outdone Pekka Rinne allowed a total of just three goals in four games against the Blackhawks. He finished with a ridiculous .976 save percentage in round 1 and only let in one goal on even strength. This will be a dynamite matchup from start to finish from both goalies.
Paul Stastny against P.K. Subban. Stastny didn’t play his first game of the playoffs until Game 5 but he logged over 20 minutes of ice time and scored a goal. He is a talented forward capable of generating offense at any moment but will need to battle with P.K. Subban on the top line. Subban has played a more subdued style since coming to Nashville but it’s been effective and we expect it to keep up.
The Predators are on some sort of roll right now but that doesn’t mean it can’t come to an end. The Blues are healthy and have Stastny back in the lineup. They’re also playing at home and feeling just as good about themselves after dispatching Minnesota. Take the Blues at home on the moneyline and St. Louis to win the series.
- Edmonton (+115) at Anaheim (-135)
The Anaheim Ducks get ready to host the second half of Alberta when they take on the Edmonton Oilers in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Ducks sliced through the Flames like a hot knife through butter and are now getting healthier with each passing day. They were dominant during the second half of the regular season and finished with an overall record of 46-23-13 to finish first in the Pacific Division.
The Oilers meanwhile had a much tougher first round matchup against the vastly more experienced San Jose Sharks. Many writers (including this one) picked the Sharks to win in seven games but the Oilers showed a perseverance that is normally reserved for veteran playoff teams. They relied on their defense despite having one of the most electric offenses in the NHL this season and played a brand of hockey that many people didn’t think they were capable of. Now they have the opportunity to move a step closer to the Stanley Cup but will need to do so against the Ducks who start the series with home-ice advantage.
Edmonton’s electric offense wasn’t exactly in the spotlight during their series against the Sharks. They opened up their series against San Jose with just five goals over four games but exploded for seven over their last two. That’s the type of offense we’re used to seeing from the regular season and the one that will need to be in full gear if they want to get anything by a very good Anaheim team.
The one player everyone will have their eyes on is Connor McDavid. He had two goals and two assists in six games against the Sharks but is capable of so much more. He didn’t score his second goal until firing the puck into an empty net during Game 6 and we expect him to be a much bigger factor in this series. He won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL regular season scoring leader with 100 points and will be eager to match some of that production against the Ducks.
Anaheim counters with a balanced attack that was extremely effective against the Calgary Flames. They totaled 14 goals during their four game win streak and are now on an eight game win streak dating back to April 2nd thanks in large part to the improved play of their offense. Their two best players during the regular season have been their two best players during the playoffs and that’s always a good sign when you’re trying to go on a deep run.
Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell combined for ten points in four games including five goals and five assists. Getzlaf has been particularly impressive and on a hot streak dating back to the last month of the season. He is a proven leader and playoff performer and has his team firing on all cylinders. After an extremely disappointing regular season Corey Perry has shown signs of life during these playoffs as well. Perry has a goal and two assists in four games so far and his goal was an overtime winner. If he gets hot as well the Ducks will be a tough squad to beat.
The big reason Anaheim is so hard to beat already is their defense. They were strong against the Flames despite missing some players and will now get a big upgrade for the start of this series. Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen are both expected to return for the start of this series. Fowler has been out since April 4th with a knee injury while Vatanen played just one game against the Flames. Both players have resumed practicing and will be huge if Anaheim wants to be able to shut down the likes of McDavid.
Shea Theodore is the x-factor for the Ducks along the blueline. He was outstanding in his first series and the rookie clearly has a taste for the playoffs now. He is tied for the team lead in points with 5 and has averaged over 20 minutes a game during the postseason. If Fowler or Vatanen need time getting back into the game Theodore can step in and help out.
The Oilers’ gritty blueliners did a great job against the Sharks with the exception of a 7-0 defeat and will need to be sharp again with the Ducks up next. Edmonton doesn’t have the same offensive threats as Anaheim does in their back end but they do have some hard-nosed players ready to put everything on the line.
Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell were huge against the Sharks’ top forwards and Russell in particular knew what it took to get the job done. After leading the league in blocked shots with 213 during the regular season he had a series-high 27 blocked shots against San Jose including five in the pivotal Game 6 win.
There will be an interesting battle in net between John Gibson and Cam Talbot. Talbot was lit up in one game against the Sharks but otherwise had an incredibly strong performance and it’s only a question of consistency with the Oilers’ goalie. He enters with a 2.03 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. While those numbers are strong his two shutouts are the biggest takeway. If he can rack up another one or two of those the Oilers could steal this series.
Opposite him is Gibson who had a very similar series to Talbot. He was pulled during Game 3 (which the Ducks ended up winning anyways) and finished the series with a 2.59 goals against average and a .926 save percentage. He doesn’t have any shutouts on the resume (yet) but has shown enough skill to keep the Oilers guessing.
Leon Draisaitl against Cam Fowler. Draisaitl is just 21 years old but was by far the best player for Edmonton against the Ducks this season. He had six goals and two assists in five games including two overtime winners. He wasn’t a huge factor against the Sharks but picked up towards the end with a goal and an assist. Fowler will try and stop him after sitting out the first series and the Ducks hope he gets up to speed in a hurry.
The Ducks looked incredible against Calgary and now that they’re healthy it’s hard to bet against them. Still, Edmonton had success against Anaheim during the regular season and this team feels special with McDavid at the helm. Take the Oilers to steal Game 1 on the road and Edmonton to come out on top in the series.