Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 2
I’m sitting in the same spot I was sitting in about 10 months ago waiting for game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals to start, wearing the same shirt. The stakes are much different tonight. It may not be a Cup final, but for the people of Boston and Montreal, it’s about more than just the game and the series. This is a decades-long rivalry with true hatred that is unrivaled in sports. Did I mention it’s only the second round of the playoffs?
In case you’re just jumping on for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the LA Kings, fresh off a history-making comeback against the San Jose Sharks, get the Anaheim Ducks in a battle for Southern California. The Minnesota Wild survived a game 7 against a young Avalanche team to play the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks. The Rangers and Penguins renew an old rivalry, and of course…
Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens
Series Price: Bruins -240, Canadiens +200
I can put my bias aside. This particular line makes no sense. I think there’s no value in betting the Bruins and having to lay 2 ½ to 1 against a fast, skillful Canadiens team that beat the Bruins three out of four times in the regular season. The Bruins have won 7 of the last 11 playoff series against Montreal. Tuukka Rask is 3-10-3 lifetime against the Habs and has never faced them in a playoff game. The Canadiens lead the league in power play time. The Bruins are last in the league in power play time. Insert your own joke about the Montreal Diving Team here.
The point of all that? Throw out the numbers. This is Bruins-Habs in the playoffs. Both teams are relatively healthy and rested. The Bruins should get Daniel Paille and Chris Kelly back. Both teams have been off for almost a week. Both crowds are going to be absolutely rabid. If you can’t get up for this, you don’t like hockey and I’m flattered you read this far down.
I can’t endorse a bet on the Canadiens. One of my first rules of betting sports is you can’t bet with your heart. If that means passing up a profitable spot in this situation, I’m OK with that. For those of you without a dog in the fight, +200 is good value. I just think teams in this round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs are so evenly matched that a disparity like this is too much. Nothing will surprise me in this situation. I’m not a big enough homer to say that there’s no chance Montreal wins. I think the Bruins are the better team, but the playoffs can come down to a bounce of the puck. Proceed with caution.
New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Series Price: Penguins -155, Rangers +135
Totally different story here. I think the Rangers are all around a better team, and they’re getting odds. Yes, I know Sidney Crosby is the best player in the NHL and on his way to another Hart trophy. They have a great roster and they’re a very public team, hence the -155 juice. There is one very important factor here, the #1 overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft, Marc-Andre Fleury. This headcase was a shot away from opening the door for Columbus in the first round, and who got pulled in favor of Tomas Vokoun last year against the Bruins. I do not think the Penguins will win a significant series against a good opponent with Fleury in net anymore. His last four post-seasons have resulted in save percentages of .891, .899, .834, and .883, with a record of 14-16. He doesn’t pass the eye test anymore. I look at Fleury and I see a shaky sieve of a goalie.
As much as this is a bet against the Penguins, the Rangers are a very skilled team with a good balance of veterans (Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards) and younger players (Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan). Henrik Lundqvist may have fallen off just a bit from the last few years but I’ll still take him over Fleury. The Rangers remind me a bit of the Bruins when it comes to blue-collar, hard-hitting hockey. As the Penguins proved last year, they don’t hold up well against that style.
Rangers at +135 is good value. This team had a lot of roster movement during the season and despite getting taken to 7 games against the Flyers, they seem like they’re starting to come together.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild
Series Price: Blackhawks -320, Wild +260
I honestly don’t have much to say here. The Blackhawks are defending champions who finished 5th in a competitive conference. They were taken to 6 games by a flailing Blues team with four of the games going to overtime, but they looked like the better team. The Wild’s veteran presence overcame a young Avalanche team in 7 games, but I just don’t think they have the consistency or firepower to beat a roster of Toews, Kane, Sharp, and on and on. I think the only way the Wild make this interesting is if Kuemper stands on his head and the Wild win some close games. This has all the makings of the underdog happy-to-be-there team folding against a conference powerhouse.
I don’t think +260 is enticing enough to bet on the upset, and -320 is prohibitive juice. This one is a pass for me. The puck line of Chicago -1.5 in game 1 is +155, and I think the Blackhawks come out fast to make up for the bad start against the Blues.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings
Series Price: Ducks and Kings, -110
30 miles separate these teams. 16 points separated them in the regular season but based on how the playoffs have gone so far you’d never know it. The Kings stumbled out of the gate against the Sharks, but in typical Sharks fashion, they fell apart in the end. Now LA is one of the hottest teams in the league winning four straight in a comeback that doesn’t happen in professional sports very often (2004 Red Sox, 2011 Flyers, among others).
The Ducks had to go back to Jonas Hiller in game 6 after Frederik Andersen let in four goals, and Hiller ended up slamming the door en route to a series win over the Stars. Momentum is a really abstract concept in sports, but you could say the Kings coming back to win 4 straight is a better position to be in than the Ducks having to switch goalies and go to a game 6 OT win against a fringe playoff team. The Ducks had the Kings’ number in the regular season, losing only once early then winning the last four in the series. But as I’ve said before, throw it all out in the playoffs.
I hate to go back to this, but I’m playing the goaltender card here. Quick put the Kings on his back two years ago, and if he can play half as good as he did then, the Kings can win the series. The Ducks have flashier offensive players in Getzlaf, Perry, not to mention the veteran Teemu Selanne in his last season, and an offense that led the league in the regular season. Balanced teams prevail in the playoffs. Take the Kings at -110 and ride the hot goalie.
Good luck! I’ll be back here to break down the conference finals in a couple weeks!