Today is massive for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With three contests, a trio of teams are facing going home or trying to extend the series to the limit in an all or nothing Game 7.
Neither top seeds Washington or Dallas expected to playing Sunday matinees on the road, but both blew opportunities on Friday on home ice to place themselves in this position. Florida also had a great chance to take a series lead two nights ago and instead it is them walking the plank towards elimination, not the New York Islanders.
As per usual, the safest bets against the NHL odds have been on the underdogs, but which do you take, if any? Time to delve into the possibilities for NHL picks.
The players in the Flyers locker room believe can win and if they follow the coach’s edict of “Playing one game at time”, maybe they can. After being outclassed and outscored 12-2 in the first three contests, Philadelphia changed goaltenders to Michal Neuvirth, whose athleticism has been a factor in holding Washington the one goal the past two contests.
In truth, Washington has nobody to blame but themselves for this mess. They played with zero emotion in Game 4, trailing 2-0 and tried to turn it on too late and lost. The Capitals strategy of just firing the puck at Neuvirth did not work in Game 5 and despite an absurd 44-11 margin in shots, Washington lost again. Given the Caps past playoff failures, you have to wonder if they are starting to feel like Scrooge and are starting to see ghosts of Christmas (Playoffs) past.
Washington is 6-0 away having lost two of three and are -165 favorites at JustBet. I think they will survive, but not easily.
Free Pick – Washington wins
We have talked about the Stars not playing with extreme effort and when they start turning the puck over, they place themselves in trouble. After just over five minutes they were down 2-0 to Minnesota. Dallas got revved up in the third period and scored three times to take 4-3 lead, but could not hold it and lost in OT.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff said all the right things about “effort” and “no quit”, but the fact remains they had an undermanned opponent on the ropes at home, had a distinct shots edge of 41-24 and could not close the deal.
Dallas opened as -125 road favorite and should win this contest, but if they have 15 giveaways like the past contest, they place themselves in peril with a Game 7 looming. Minnesota has found holes in a less than stout Stars defense, scoring 12 goals in the last three games.
Picking a winner is real not easy, but choosing the total in less cumbersome. With the total at 5 and Dallas 24-8 OVER off a loss and the Wild 11-3 OVER when facing elimination, this feels like safest wager.
Free Pick – Play Over
It has been 23 years since the New York Islanders have won playoff series and tonight they can end that drought. With Florida not far behind at two decades, it seems right that neither club has really taken control of series.
New York’s double OT thriller gives them the most immediate chance and they were ultra aggressive, outhitting Florida 65-34. It really appeared to take away any offensive rhythm the Panthers might have had. The Islanders will try and employ same strategy.
Florida needs a lift from veteran Jaromir Jagr, who has not scored in this series and has a 36-game playoff drought. A goal by him would be huge inspiration.
The difference in the teams have been minimal the past three battles, making it a play here or there that matters. With the Panthers 16-3 revenging a home loss this season, they should win as long as take care of business in regulation. (Seven straight losses in OT)
Free Pick – Florida wins