After a couple of needed off-days in what has been an exhilarating first few weeks of NHL playoff action, we’re back on Mother’s Day Sunday with some key thoughts on three pivotal games. Last night, we witnessed the pesky Islanders finally get eliminated by a much stronger Pittsburgh side. This will set up a very intriguing Pittsburgh/Ottawa second-round match-up filled with exciting storylines. Most notably, the Erik Karlsson and Matt Cooke injury feud stemming back from earlier in the year. We’ll have thoughts on those games beginning Wednesday.
But for today, our featured selection will focus on a huge Game 6 clash between the emotionally charged Leafs and the veteran-laden Boston Bruins. Our featured picks enter the day at a stellar 7-3 mark. The B’s had a 3-1 series lead but after losing Friday, they certainly must be feeling the pressure entering Game 6 in Toronto. Tonight the series resumes from what promises to be a revved up Air Canada Centre crowd. It’s the city’s biggest game in nine years and read on below for further thoughts.
Boston Bruins (-130) @ Toronto Maple Leafs (+110)
Though many expected this Bruins/Leafs series to be a relatively short one, it’s proven to be anything but. Every game has been a battle and for many stretches of this series, Toronto has in fact been the dominant team. Many could make the point that it should be the Leafs who could be up 3-2 in this series, if it weren’t for an unfortunate error in the overtime of Game 4. But the past is the past, and tonight’s Game 6 is a new slate for these teams to steer the series in their direction. Boston has been in this situation many times before, often blowing decisive leads, but don’t expect this focused group to do so again.
The Bruins are riddled with size, talent, and veteran presence and when they want to be, they are among the NHL’s best teams. Much of their current roster was with them when they won their Stanley Cup just two years ago and this is a team that knows exactly what it takes to win a title. Though they’ve blown recent leads in series to Washington and Philadelphia, Boston has learned from their mistakes and look for them to finally put away a hungry Leafs squad in fron of their home crowd tonight.
Expect the Bruins to feed off a charged-up Toronto crowd. For whatever reason the Bruins thrive on the road, and seem to put forth a better effort away from friendly confines of the TD Garden. They won both Games 3 and 4 at the Air Canada Centre, and look for them to close out the series there in Game 6. In the third period of Game 5, Boston was simply dominating a Toronto team that looked quite tired. They out-chanced the Leafs heavily and out-shot them 19-4. For the final 40 minutes of that game, Toronto only had three offensive zone face-offs. The Leafs were on their heels, hanging on by a thread, and look for Boston to actually execute and finish on their chances tonight.
James Reimer was great in Game 5 but it doesn’t cover up the fact that he has been prone to giving out juicy rebounds and still remains the second best goaltender in this series. Expect Boston’s heavy forwards to wear down the Leafs’ defense on the cycle game and get to the net to create second and third-chance opportunities. Boston thrives when their physical game is going and look for them to punish Toronto in their own zone whenever they get the opportunity. Claude Julien is a solid coach for the Bruins and if his squad can execute their gameplan, Boston should leave Toronto with a series victory.
The Leafs have to be feeling quite content with their effort thus far and look for Boston to capitalize on this. The Bruins haven’t been happy at all with their consistency in this series, and expect the line of Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin, and Patrice Bergeron to finally emerge with a big night tonight. The trio has been unbelievably silent through five games, and tonight would be a great time to step up with a big effort. Toronto’s happy with what they’ve done, while Boston knows they need to finish this series off If they’re to compete for the Cup. Wade Redden will be back on defense for the Bruins, a big boost for their powerplay which struggled in Game 5. Look for a solid road effort from the veteran Bruins, and at a slight road favourite, they’re great value tonight.
PICK = Boston (-130)
Two other big games on the NHL slate for Sunday and we’ll have our thoughts on both below. The bonus picks are just below .500 through the first round of the post-season but we should improve on that record with two strong selections for tonight.
Bonus Pick #1: N.Y. Rangers (-140) While the price may be a tad steep, the Rangers are the better team more suited for playoff hockey. They deserved a better fate in Game 5 and it would be criminal to not see this series go the distance. New York’s Henrik Lundqvist will turn in a stellar outing in front of the home crowd and look for the Rangers to pound the Caps into submission. Despite the injuries of the Rangers they’re a team built for this type of hockey and after they win tonight, don’t be surprised to see them close it out in seven. They’re a darkhorse moving forward.
Bonus Pick #2: Anaheim (-140) Another favourite, but it’s hard not to like the home team against a Detroit squad that looks fatigued. The Wings’ defense is abysmal and far too reliant on their top pairing, while Detroit’s overall depth cannot match up with the Ducks. In a long, hard-fought series that has featured a wealth of overtime games, that could be problematic in a tough Game 7. Expect the big guns of Anaheim to finally step up in this series, and look for the Ducks to set up a dream second-round matchup by taking on their California rivals, the L.A. Kings.