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Thrills, surprises in return

O.K., so maybe us bettors are a bit rusty after five months off of picking hockey games, too.

An 0-3 week for us might not have been the best start, but being ever the optimist that I am and looking at this tragedy through a glass-half-full kind of perspective, I’ll start by saying this weekend of hockey was a thrilling time filled with a lot of unexpected happenings.

The NHL’s return to the ice, and return to Stanley Cup Playoff hockey, was a success as far as the actual games are concerned. Minus the large abundance of penalties, the action was exciting and the games were entertaining.

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Perhaps none more enjoyable than watching both No. 12 seeds -- the Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens -- take Game 1 of their respective series’ against the top teams in the qualifying round. Such momentum was gone Monday when the Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins responded with stellar performances in Game 2, but that’s where the intrigue draws us in.

Even the round robin games were entertaining, for the most part. I can understand some peoples’ apprehension to these games. Do they really matter? The eight teams taking part in this round robin are essentially guaranteed a bye while the other 16 teams are throwing themselves through the ringer to hope for just a chance to play for the Cup.

But at least three of the round robin games were entertaining (looking at you, Boston, because that was awful). One went to overtime, one required a four-goal third period to overcome a deficit, and the other was decided on a buzzer-beater because of course it was.

The Western Conference round robin is going to be interesting for the remainder of the week. With the Colorado Avalanche winning in the buzzer-beating fashion they did, Saturday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights could loom large should they take care of business against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday. The Dallas Stars are like the sad little brother that wants to play video games with his big brothers, but they hog the controller for 12 hours.

In the midst of reviewing my picks from last week, I felt ashamed not to include the Columbus Blue Jackets; the team that I have been riding the bandwagon for since January. Columbus dominated the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1, and at the time of publishing, could have very well lost to the Leafs on Tuesday and put this whole praise down the drain.

But Columbus is a heavy team that plays sound defense and gets quality goaltending. Joonas Korpisalo gave up 14 goals in his final five starts before the pause after missing the previous six weeks with a knee injury; he pitched a 28-save shutout, in Toronto, against Toronto. Watch out for the Jackets. They could be a surprise team going forward.

While the betting happenstance might be a bit rusty, there was no denying this weekend of hockey was fantastic. The fact that the NHL has been able to corral these games in such a way that it’s turned into an all-day event is fantastic for the bettor and the fan.

Now, let’s try and be better this week.

Thursday

Blues vs. Golden Knights: It’s likely Vegas will rotate goalies and go with Marc-Andre Fleury against the Blues, who figure to be angry after Nazem Kadri broke their hearts. The last two meetings have proven a lot of goals will be scored. If it becomes a track meet, that pulls into the Golden Knights’ favor. GOLDEN KNIGHTS

Canucks vs. Wild: Keep in mind Game 2 will have already happened here, so either this will be do-or-die for Vancouver or it’ll provide an interesting 2-1 series lead for someone. Minnesota’s physicality was a big problem for the Canucks in Game 1; not a good long-term sign for a young team still a ways away from contending. WILD

Sunday

Bruins vs. Capitals: I’m not sure how much of a trap I’m falling into with Boston. I don’t want to hit the panic button, but the Flyers took them to the woodshed over the weekend. Washington will present as much of a physical threat for Boston as Philly was a finesse challenge. Boston has to get one of these round robin games but it might not be Washington. CAPITALS

Last week: 0-3

Season: 35-35