After a big win with the Vancouver Canucks Thursday evening, we’re back at it again for a big Saturday night of NHL action. We enter the night an impressive 28-14 on the year with our featured selections here at The Sports Geek, and 54-38 overall including the bonus picks.
It’s crunch time in the NHL season as every game matters, and accumulating points will be crucial from here on out. No more is that more true than in Toronto right now, as the Maple Leafs look to end their seven-season playoff drought, the longest in the league. Tonight, the Leafs will host their rivals the Boston Bruins, in an Original Six showdown on Hockey Night in Canada.
Boston Bruins (-140) @ Toronto Maple Leafs (+120)
Though Boston enters this game as a fairly sizable road favourite, value is value, and that’s what the Bruins represent tonight. I’m always baffled at the lines they typically set for Bruins/Leafs games as Toronto has shown zero willingness to compete with Boston for some time now. The Leafs are fading, and fading fast. Much like last season’s collapse, Toronto has become unglued defensively, and the stellar goaltending they received in January and February, seems to have disappeared.
They’ll face a Boston team that plays about as solid defensively as you can. They’re extremely well-coached and tough as nails. They’ve embarrassed the Leafs on countless occasions throughout the past few years, and are in fact 25-5-5 against Toronto since February of 2007. This is about as one-sided of a rivalry as you could imagine, and it’s simply domination whenever these two teams square off.
The Buds have dropped five of their past six and have to be feeling the pressure from fans, the media, and the multiple teams closing the gap. Toronto desperately wants to end their play-off drought, but a home-and-home series against a strong Bruins side won’t get them any closer to their goal. Boston has won nine-straight against the Leafs, and four straight at the Air Canada Centre. And though they’ve struggled to score of late, they rarely have that issue against a porous Leafs squad. Toronto is in fact dead last in the NHL in goals allowed per game this month, and if they don’t tighten up, it could be a laugher in their home building.
Making matters worse for the Buds will be they’ll have to take on the Bruins without key forwards Joffrey Lupul and Leo Komarov. Toronto doesn’t have the depth Boston does, and losing those pieces will place an extra burden on others. Look for back-up Anton Khudobin to be between the pipes for the Bruins, and though he’s not as good as Tuukka Rask, he’s already beaten the Leafs this season, and has played exceptional when called upon. Expect another stellar outing from the Russian netminder.
In the end, the physicality and depth of the Bruins will once again overwhelm a fragile Toronto team. Paying -140 isn’t outrageous in a series that has been so incredibly one-sided. Zdeno Chara will blanket Phil Kessel as is usually the case, and Leafs-killer Tyler Seguin will be up to his usual tricks crushing the hopes and dreams of Leafs Nation. Boston’s top-six forwards are simply too good, and their blend of size and skill will be too much to handle for a struggling Leafs’ defensive group. Expect a tightly-fought, low-scoring affair, but one in which the Bruins control throughout, en route to a convincing road victory, their tenth in a row against the Leafs.
PICK = Boston (-140)
We’ve got one bonus pick for you as well tonight. While these selections haven’t been as successful as our featured games, tonight’s St. Louis/Edmonton game was very close to making the cut.
Bonus Pick #1: St. Louis (-130) The Blues are back. After a brief blip on the radar in early-February, St. Louis is playing great hockey and have the look of a Stanley Cup-contender. They’re fully healthy at the moment, and they will be getting T.J. Oshie back against the Oilers. They’ve won three of their past four, and seem keen on securing home-ice for the first round of the play-offs. Meanwhile, the Oilers will be without key centreman Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and though they have played their way back into the post-season discussion, the depth and discipline of this Blues team will be overwhelming. Edmonton doesn’t have the defensemen to handle the top three lines of St. Louis, and as a result look for the Blues to cruise to another big two points.