At last the NHL playoffs have arrived! 16 teams will now embark on what they hope will be a long and arduous battle into June to win hockey’s ultimate prize. The playoffs kick off tonight with two Eastern Conference matchups as well as a Western Conference tilt on the West Coast. The Montreal Canadiens will visit the Tampa Bay Lightning, who managed to get home ice advantage in the final days of the regular season, the Columbus Blue Jackets invade the Console Energy Centre to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins, while the Dallas Stars hit Southern California to try and upend the powerful Anaheim Ducks. Tonight or focus will be on the Stars and Ducks game, while all three are likely to be very entertaining hockey games to kick off the 2014 postseason. Let’s start with a winner!
Dallas Stars @ Anaheim Ducks
My Pick – UNDER 5.5 (-125) @ 5dimes.eu (Best Odds)
The Dallas Stars will travel to Anaheim tonight to take on the Western Conference Champion Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Centre in Southern California. The Stars played the Ducks tough all season as they took two of the three contests between the two clubs, and actually managed to shutout the Ducks by a 2-0 score on February 1st, the first time Anaheim had been held scoreless in a game since March 27th of 2013, almost a full calendar year. The Ducks however finished the season on a tear, winning their last four games of the regular season to ensure themselves the top seed in the West and home ice advantage throughout the Western Conference side of the playoffs, all the way up to the Stanley Cup finals should they get there. The Stars traded losses and wins over their last five regular season tilts, however I am looking at the final scores of those games as opposed to the outright winners. Not one of those five games had a goal total of more than 5, and three of those games finished with four or less goals scored in total. It was special teams that played a big factor in this as the Stars gave up just a single powerplay goal over their last five games, killing 11 of their last 12 penalties overall. The same can be said for Anaheim as their penalty kill surrendered just one goal over their last 16 shorthanded situations, and have killed off their last 13 penalties in a row. The Ducks also didn’t score a goal with the man advantage over their last four games, going 0 for 10 on the powerplay to finish the regular season.
Despite the mass amounts of offensive talent on the team that finished 2nd overall in scoring with 3.2 goals per game, the Ducks home powerplay finished a mediocre 15th over in the league with an 18.4% clip with the man advantage at the Honda Centre. This is an important stat as playoff games are much tighter defensively and often special teams can be the difference in the games. Dallas also seems to play in low-scoring games on the road as four of their last five games away from home resulted in the UNDER, as well as six of their last nine games on the road against the Ducks. One thing that is up in the air for the Ducks is their starting netminder for game 1 of the series. Jonas Hiller, Frederik Andersen, and John Gibson all saw action for the Ducks this year and it looks like Andersen could get the nod as Hiller struggled in his last couple games and Gibson has just a few NHL games under his belt. Nonetheless Andersen brings in a 2.29 goals against average and a .923 save percentage into tonight’s game and Anaheim should be very comfortable with him in net. Let’s take the UNDER tonight to kick off a series that will be much tighter than most people think.