It’s been a while since we last had a featured pick here at The Sports Geek, but we return with a vengeance to begin the week. As the regular season winds down, the games inevitably get more and more crucial, and in turn the lines get much sharper. That’s what we’ve been dealing with of late, but tonight there is some solid value on the NHL betting board. We enter the week with a stellar 32-18 record with our featured selections, and sit at 63-45 overall. We’ll look to finish the season out strong, and keep this momentum rolling for what promises to be a stellar NHL Playoff season.
Tonight’s match-up features two (most likely) playoff bound teams, but seeding still remains a big issue. The red-hot New York Rangers are fresh off their big shake-up and will travel to Toronto to do battle with the surprising Leafs.
New York Rangers (-110) @ Toronto Maple Leafs (-110)
Virtually nobody within hockey circles expected this kind of season from the Toronto Maple Leafs. They didn’t have many players participating during the lockout, and entered the year as one of the NHL’s youngest squads. Yet here they sit with less than 20 days in the regular season to go, firmly entrenched in a playoff position. It would take quite the major collapse for the Buds to miss out now, but it remains to be seen how they will finish their season. Especially when you consider that the Leafs will be without star forward Joffrey Lupul. The key Leafs’ forward took a vicious blow to the head last week against the Flyers, and has yet to return. Without Lupul, the Leafs have played decently, but there is no doubt the Buds are a much better team when #19 is in the line-up.
For the Rangers, unlike their opponents tonight, they simply haven’t met expectations. They have vastly underachieved, and though things have really turned around in recent weeks, they’re still fighting desperately to qualify for the post-season. Tonight’s game kicks off a pivotal home-and-home set between the Leafs and Rangers, and two victories for the Rangers would likely do wonders for their post-season aspirations. New York enters on quite the streak of late, winners of three of their past four, and have been playing great hockey in the process. They throttled the Penguins a week ago, and the trading of Marian Gaborik has truly seemed to rejuvenate the group.
New York enters tonight’s game the more in-form squad, and should be the hungrier one as well. Toronto without Lupul puts far too much stress on the first unit of Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel, and James van Riemsdyk. If New York can shut down that trio, and they have the horses to do so, the Rangers should cruise to victory. Young sensation Nazem Kadri has been brilliant for the Leafs in his first full season, but playing without Lupul will definitely make things harder. This is a big loss for a Leafs team that has overcome a plethora of adversity in 2013, though expect the Rangers to be too much on Monday evening.
The recent play of new acquisitions Ryane Clowe and Mats Zuccarello have made this a very deep group that can match the Leafs in all facets of the game. Expect a diligent, workmanlike outing from a gritty Rangers squad and look for their size and toughness to be problematic for the Leafs in their own zone. Take the hungry Rangers at a generous road price.
PICK = NY Rangers (-110)