The playoffs have begun quite well for us here at The Sports Geek. Two nights down, and two nice featured winners in our pockets. We’ll look to make it three in a row on the third night of post-season action this evening. It’ll be a busy one, with four big games on the NHL slate. The Kings, Blues, Wings, and Ducks will all be locked into their Game 2 contests, while the Rangers, Capitals, Senators, and Canadiens begin their respective playoff journeys. Our featured selection tonight involves the first all-Canadian playoff clash in sometime, as two surprising teams, Montreal and Ottawa, square off in what promises to be a hard-fought and exciting series.
Ottawa Senators (+135) @ Montreal Canadiens (-155)
Very few people are giving the Ottawa Senators much of a chance in this series, but that’s just fine for their team as they were counted out all season long. The Sens endured a horrific rash of injuries, and predominately to their top players. While they enter this series against the Habs without their star forward in Jason Spezza, prolonged absences from Jared Cowen, Erik Karlsson, and Craig Anderson had to dealt with for the majority of the year. While most teams would’ve faded to the bottom of the standings, Ottawa showed great resilience and grit in staying afloat. Now the Sens enter this series mostly healthy and riding a wave of momentum. They’ve got more of a shot than most think against a vulnerable Canadiens side, and don’t be surprised if this encounter goes the full seven games.
Entering Game 1 it feels like both these teams are heading in different directions. Montreal ended the season with a win, though their final few weeks overall were less than stellar. Their defense has shown cracks of late, especially without glue-guy Alexei Emelin who was lost for the year. Goaltender Carey Price was abysmal in April and you truly do not know how he will fare in this series. Conversely, goaltending and defense is the backbone of a well-coached and disciplined Ottawa group. Craig Anderson has been the best goalie in hockey in 2013, and the Sens do well to limit chances, take away space, and as a result concede very few goals. A balanced Montreal attack will find great difficulty in trying to break down the pesky Senators.
Ottawa will pressure the puck like no other team in hockey, and when you give savvy head coach Paul MacLean a few days to prepare and game-plan for a given opponent, expect his team to be prepared and raring to go come Thursday evening. Montreal has coasted for the past month and they are not good enough to merely flick a switch and revert back to the way they played in the opening months of the year. They’ve lost their identity and it won;’t be easy to regain that against an Ottawa team that does a lot of things quite well.
I am fairly certain this will be a long series in Eastern Canada. Six or seven games for sure, and while the Habs have a decisive home-ice advantage, both in Montreal and with their travelling fans in nearby Ottawa, the Sens have hung around all year and they will do it again. Ottawa will leave La Belle Province with a split, and expect them to get a big Game 1 victory. They’re the hotter team at the moment, and their balance of youth and grizzled veterans will have this team ready for puck-drop. Take the Sens for some solid road value tonight.
PICK = Ottawa (+135)
With three other games on the NHL board tonight, there are a lot of betting options available. We’ll take advantage of a stacked card and throw some more thoughts and potential winners at you with our bonus selections.
Bonus Pick #1: N.Y. Rangers (+110) While New York enters battling some injuries, mainly to Ryane Clowe and Marc Staal, they finished the season on a high note and will be able to carry that momentum through to Game 1. The Rags play a style that will frustrate and wear down a skilled Capitals squad, and though Washington is likely the hottest team in hockey right now, expect the big bodies of New York to punish the likes of Ovechkin and Backstrom. The Caps also give up a ton of shots, and whether or not Braden Holtby can replicate last year’s post-season remains to be seen. New York is built for the second season, and their style is conducive to winning games when time and space is limited and look for them to start out by doing that. Expect a very workmanlike effort from John Tortorella’s squad and when their shape fades, star goalie Henrik Lundqvist will be there to pick up the slack. Lundqvist gives the Rangers excellent net-minding and will be a difference maker not only tonight in Game 1, but for the entire series.
Bonus Pick #2: Ottawa/Montreal Under 5 (-130) We haven’t played many totals at The Sports Geek this season but the playoffs are the perfect time to play Unders. The games get tighter and the scoring chances become more and more rare come May. Getting 5’s is solid, especially in this series between the Habs and Sens. Both teams have exceptional goaltending. Anderson has been great all year, and despite Price’s recent struggles, he should also rebound for Montreal. If not, both teams have solid back-ups. Moreover, both Michel Therrien and Paul MacLean adopt strict defensive philosophies. These teams do not give up chances and are very well-disciplined and maintain their shape. Game 1 there will be a feeling out process, and expect a tight, low-scoring affair as a result.
Bonus Pick #3: Anaheim (-140) I’ll admit I was a tad surprised at how lackluster Detroit looked against the Ducks in Game 1. It seemed as if they didn’t care anymore, or are too old to care. Whatever the case may be, this team has faded and perhaps the draining process of playing so hard to get into the post-season has taken its toll. The Ducks were hungrier, faster, and more physical. They want this series, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be denied. Jimmy Howard is a capable goaltender but he cannot match Jonas Hiller save-for-save. Beyond Datsyuk and Zetterberg, very few Detroit players can produce or have shown a willingness to do so. While I expected this to initially be a long series, I am unsure if the Wings can do it anymore. Expect the physicality and speed of Anaheim’s balanced attack to keep wearing down Detroit, and help them jump out to a 2-0 series lead.