After a shortened NHL regular season comes to a close, we’re back here at The Sports Geek to guide you through the next two months of post-season action. The playoffs are a special time in this league, and expect every game to be hard fought and tightly contested.
We had a very successful regular season betting-wise with our featured picks at the website, and trust that will continue throughout the months of May and June. The top selections went 34-23 in 2013, and though we struggled for much of April, the playoffs represent a clean slate and another chance to beat the bookies. Read on below for our thoughts on tonight’s opening games.
Los Angeles Kings (+100) @ St. Louis Blues (-120)
After a slow start to the 2013 regular season, the L.A. Kings eventually got over their Stanley Cup hangover, but repeating will surely be a tall task. A team hasn’t won back-to-back titles since the Detroit Red Wings fifteen years ago and while Los Angeles has an impressive team, the St. Louis Blues are certainly no pushover.
St. Louis enters the second season one of the more underrated teams, but they shouldn’t. The Blues are finally healthy and after a few weeks of medicorirty throughout the regular season, they enter the playoffs playing the best they have all year. St. Louis beats teams in a plethora of different ways and will pose a huge problem for the L.A. Kings. The Blues are as deep up front as any team in the league, and their three balanced scoring lines could prove problematic for the top-heavy defensive group of the Kings. Star forward T.J. Oshie returns to the line-up on the eve of the playoffs and will provide St. Louis with a nice scoring boost. The Blues are one of the few teams that can match the size of Los Angeles, and their depth on the back-end is remarkable. They’ve got a great tandem in goal with the red-hot Brian Elliott and the battle-tested Jaroslav Halak, and they’re one of the top teams in the league in limiting shots and scoring chances. They’ll be a tough out for L.A. and expect them to come out fired up in front of their home crowd for tonight’s opening affair.
The Kings also struggled for portions of the regular season but have figured it out in time for the playoffs. Los Angeles cruised their way to last year’s Stanley Cup, but their opening round encounter this year certainly will not be a walk in the park. The Kings have walked right into a very tough match-up and you have to wonder about their drive and determination after already winning the Cup last year. Focus and hunger has been an issue for this team for much of the year, and whether or not they can flick a switch and turn it on in May remains to be seen. Moreover, Jonathan Quick hasn’t duplicated the success he had last year and as a result this Kings team is not as strong as they were last season. Key defenceman Willie Mitchell is likely out for the year, and Matt Greene’s status on the blue-line is also in doubt.
Another concern entering Game 1 for the Kings has to be the play of enigmatic forward, Dustin Penner. Penner was dominant last post-season en route to Los Angeles’ Cup victory, but he’s been lazy and awful in 2013. He had just twelve points in a mediocre regular season, and if he can’t produce, those third and fourth lines of the Kings could really struggle against the bottom six of a deep St. Louis team.
Expect the Blues to turn in a dominant opening game performance. Coach Ken Hitchcock is one of the top game managers in the league and though their high-end talent isn’t as high as that of the Kings, their depth has the ability to overwhelm Los Angeles. They’ve got a wealth of size and talent and though St. Louis enters flying under the radar, the Blues are a legitimate threat to come out of the Western Conference if they can get by the L.A. Kings.
Look for this game, and the remainder of the series to be one in which home teams defend their own arena very well. St. Louis was solid on home ice this year, while the Kings really struggled on the road. L.A. was 8-12-4 away from the Staples Center and there’s no evidence of things improving in the post-season. Jonathan Quick isn’t as good as he was last year, and the big guns of the Kings will struggle to score against a blue-line that features Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, and Kevin Shattenkirk. That’s a wildly impressive trio, and look for them to lead the Blues to a tone-setting Game 1 victory on Tuesday night.
PICK = St. Louis (-120)
Our additional selections hovered just around .500 for the regular season, but we’ve vowed to step up our efforts for the commencement of the playoffs. Tonight there are two other games on the go to kick off the post-season and read on below for thoughts on one big match-up between the surprising Ducks and resilient Red Wings.
Bonus Pick #1: Detroit (+130) Not many people figured either of these teams would be here at the outset of the regular season, but here they are. The Ducks shocked many in the hockey world by winning the Pacific Division and dominating for much of the year, and the Red Wings had a solid late charge to guarantee their playoff participation for yet another consecutive year. Expect this to be a very close series that lasts for six or seven games. Both squads are evenly matched, and as a result I expect the Red Wings to leave Southern California with at least a split in these first two games. Detroit has been playing playoff-like hockey for a while now and expect their veteran-laden group to be ready for the challenge that awaits. Anaheim certainly had a great year, but whether their defense can fend off the impressive attacking options of the Red Wings remains to be seen. Detroit is great road value tonight, and look for them to begin this series on a winning note.