Favorites don’t always prevail in Cup

Favorites don’t always prevail in Cup

April 12, 2019 3:01 AM
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The Tampa Bay Lightning equaled an NHL record with 62 victories, winning the Presidents’ Trophy with a whopping for 128 points. And Bolts forward Nikita Kucherov was the league scoring champion as he also finished with 128 points.

However, if you recall the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings and their record 131 points, it meant nothing with a Western Conference series loss to eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado.

With that in mind, here are some factors to consider before wagering on first-round series in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which start with games on Wednesday and Thursday.

Eastern Conference

Columbus vs. Tampa Bay: Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella will be back in a familiar place by drawing the Lightning, a club he guided for seven seasons to open the century.

“Torts” guided the Bolts to the 2004 Cup title, but was back in New York to coach the Rangers by the end of the decade. He knows how to play the physical game, and his distain of Tampa Bay is through the roof. If Tortorella can transfer that knowledge to his players, don’t expect a sweep by Tampa Bay.

Toronto vs. Boston: The general theory appears sound: parlay the Bruins with the Under, or the Maple Leafs with the Over. But which?

If it’s anything like last season’s series between these Original Six squads, when six of the seven games featured at least six goals no matter the winner, perhaps the Over is the safe bet, specially since Toronto went out of the way to improve its offense.

Carolina vs. Washington: The Cup champion Capitals possess more veteran leadership and superior goaltending in the first-ever postseason meeting between these relatively nearby neighbors.

D.C. is enjoying the Age of Alex (Ovechkin), who needs 42 goals next season to reach 700, passing greats like Mark Messier, Mario Lemieux and and Steve Yzerman.

Besides, when was the last time any club has done anything in the playoffs in their first appearance in a decade?

Pittsburgh vs. N.Y. Islanders: Kudos to Isles coach Barry Trotz for becoming the first team in literally 100 years to go from worse to first in goals allowed. And there weren’t 31 clubs way back then.

Still, the NHL is about star power, with the Penguins offering way too much marquee value to warrant an early exit. Evgeni “Geno” Malkin is back, so the difference may be the third line anchored by Jake Guentzel while the Isles seek to stop Sidney Crosby.

Western Conference

Dallas vs. Nashville: With this pair of defensive-minded clubs, don’t expect a lot of scoring. Should all games stay close, then the underdog Stars have a more than a puncher’s chance to register the upset.

Dallas closed by winning 5-of-7 because of a 10-game points streak by Alexander Radulov. That gives the Stars two lines for the Predators to worry about.

St. Louis vs. Winnipeg: The easy pick is to select the red-hot Blues. But how hot are they truly?

Following St. Louis’ 11-game win streak (mostly against sub-.500 clubs), the Blues have posted a record of 12-6-4 (12-10 against the spread), so their rise was more due to the drop of the Central Division leaders.

Any team in the Central (including last-place Chicago) can beat any of the others, so a bet on the Blues at plus-money is fine for value, but it’s not necessarily a good handicap.

Colorado vs. Calgary: The Avalanche may be the single best and worst first-round opponent for the Flames.

Although Colorado barely reached Lord Stanley’s party, the Avs are 8-1-2 entering the playoffs, making them one of the hottest clubs in the Western Conference. Plus, the Avs’ skating style could offset what Calgary does best, making Calgary easier to defend since they play similar systems.

It’s not smart to wager on Calgary at -300 or more at the Saddledome. But if the Flames show any indication of winning in a sweep or five games, wait until the series switches to Denver before pulling the trigger.

Vegas vs. San Jose: Oddly, since the acquisition of Mark Stone at the trade deadline, the power play of the Golden Knights has sunk down to 17 percent.

Should be Knights prevent any “rooster tricks” by “Jumbo” Joe Thornton of the Sharks, they could take another series from revenge-minded San Jose.

Besides, who on San Jose can score? Over the last 10 games, the top goal-scorers are third-line winger Kevin Labanc and defensman Brent Burns with three each.

However, the Sharks are the best 5-on-5 team in hockey right now, and with fewer penalties in the playoffs, Vegas must maintain ifs current line combinations to have a chance. 

My picks to advance to the next round: LIGHTNING, BRUINS, CAPITALS, PENGUINS, STARS, JETS, FLAMES and SHARKS.

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