I have found less objections to this Stanley Cup playoffs format than I expected when talking to bettors or fans of the sport and that really shocked me, since my presumption was quality mattered.
Talking to hockey bettors, they just wanted the action and did not really care about how the teams got where they are and fans either had rooting interest for team and never gave it a thought.
While every year is different, not a fan the second and third best teams just met in first round of West playoffs and now each conference semi-final will feature the top two teams in each conference facing off. I understand upsets occur, but to this hockey handicapper, this is diluting the product.
Anyways, time to focus attention to arguably the two best teams in the NHL right now Pittsburgh and Washington.
The Capitals were the best team during the regular season and the Penguins are presently the hottest club on ice. When looking at NHL odds for futures, checked five sportsbooks and each one had Washington as the favorite and Pittsburgh second, thus a strong case can be made the winner of this series could well be the Stanley Cup champion.
For making NHL picks for series, BetonLine has the Caps at -119 and the Pens at -101. Who should you consider?
At this time, I would not read a lot into the Capitals pushed to six games by Philadelphia, the Flyers are a tough matchup for Washington and despite words to the contrary, they knew who was coming in next series. Washington is complete squad, has depth at every position on the ice and true stars like Alex Ovechkin and goalie Braden Holtby. The Capitals were Top 5 in scoring, goals allowed, and both elements of special teams. They are for real.
The Penguins are white hot, winners of 18 of 21 and one of the losses was sitting stars in season finale. Remember back in November when Pittsburgh was struggling and all the talk was Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were on the downside of their careers, how did that turn out? Pittsburgh has great speed and bevy of scorers, better than what most realize on defense and an extremely high confidence level.
Why Washington Loses
No defense can take away everything and the Capitals like to spread offenses wide, which will leave the middle of the ice open and that is a favorite attack spot of Pittsburgh. This is where Washington is most vulnerable on defense, which would require Holtby to be super special against this collection of snipers. Evgeny Kuznetsov Washington’s top point producer in the regular season and had zero against the Flyers. If he continues to be non-effective and Ovechkin is held down, even with their depth, the Caps are in trouble.
Why Pittsburgh Loses
Look no further than the goal cage, where rookie Matt Murray will be standing. The talented 21-year is the future for Pittsburgh, however, playing very well against a limited Rangers offense due to injury is not the same as taking four quality lines like Washington has, who can create relentless pressure. With the Capitals third this season in killing penalties and holding Philly to 1 for 23, if the Pens cannot score in this method, they could be frustrated.
The Bottom Line
Pittsburgh won three of five matchups this season and maybe more importantly, the visitor was 4-1, setting up a wild affair. Like the Blues and Blackhawks, this has the sense of a seven-game series and it could be even more entertaining.
Pittsburgh wins with speed, taking the special teams battle and receiving exceptional goaltending.
Washington advances playing smart defense backed with Holtly, Ovechkin outplays Crosby and lines three and four defeat their counterparts.
Really like Murray in nets and the way Pittsburgh is playing, but Washington improves from last series and wins in seven fun confrontations.