After an incredible opening round of NHL playoff action featuring an unprecedented 18 Overtime games, the puck will drop on the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on Wednesday night as eight teams remain in the chase for the Stanley Cup.
The St. Louis Blues will battle the Nashville Predators in a divisional rivalry second round series. Nashville is a north of -120 favorite in the series after the Predators dispatched the Chicago Blackhawks (the 1 seed in the Western Conference) in a stunning 4 game sweep.
St. Louis pulled off their own upset albeit not quite as shocking in the first round as they knocked off the favored Minnesota Wild in the first round in 5 games and cashed a nice plus price series ticket for Blues backers including myself as they sent Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau to another disappointing and early playoff exit.
The Blues got outstanding goaltending from Jake Allen and timely scoring in the first round and will need more of the same here. Nashville’s sweep of Chicago can be looked at it in two ways. Did Nashville play that well or did Chicago just not have it in them to flip that physical and emotional switch after 7 straight years of long playoff runs that have surely taken its toll in the team’s core players?
Nashville deserves more credit for playing great in the series than Chicago for not. Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg in particular were fantastic up front for the Preds with 5 points apiece in the first round. The blue line led by P.K. Subban and Roman Josi was rock solid and the good version of Pekka Rinne showed up in between the pipes. I expect a long and competitive series between these division rivals but will side with Nashville to outlast St. Louis in this one.
In the other Western Conference semifinal, the young and improving Edmonton Oilers face the veteran Anaheim Ducks. Edmonton is loaded with skill and talent and incredible team speed the likes of which will test Anaheim much more than Calgary did in a series in which the Ducks swept the Flames.
Connor McDavid, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl are all prolific talents for the Oilers and Edmonton also has more of a physical presence than they have had in recent seasons with players like Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon and Zack Kassian providing an added physical dimension to the Oilers.
John Gibson for Anaheim and Cam Talbot for Edmonton both played terrific in the first round in net for their respective teams. Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler are the core forwards that have a ton of playoff experience for Anaheim that will be counted on to play big minutes in this series. Anaheim may get back some personnel on the blue line with Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen possibly being ready to go for the start of this series.
Edmonton was 3-2 against Anaheim in the regular season and I see a tinge of betting value toward the Oilers side at a plus price in this series.
In the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals meet in the second round for the second straight year despite the fact thy were the top 2 teams in the conference in points--a product of a very suspect playoff system implemented by the NHL.
There is star power on both sides of this titanic matchup with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel among others for Pittsburgh going up against Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie who will play starring roles for the Washington Capitals. Pittsburgh ousted Washington in 6 games last season and the Capitals will be looking to not only avenge that series loss but do something they have failed to do in the Alex Ovechkin era since 2006 and that is advance past the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Pittsburgh was able to get past Columbus in the first round despite key injuries to defenseman Kris Letang and forwards Chris Kunitz and Carl Hagelin but the depth of the Penguins will be tested to a much stronger degree against the Capitals who got everything they could handle from the feisty, rookie laden Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round. Washington is a small favorite of just over -120 in the series which may surprise some given the fact they have failed to reach the conference finals during this recent era of success for the franchise.
There were holes in Pittsburgh’s game against Columbus as they were outshot in 4 of the 5 games despite winning the series 4-1 and they got stuck in their own zone a few times but the Blue Jackets were unable to capitalize on it. Washington may not have that same problem. The two teams split the regular season series 2-2.
An interesting under the radar betting angle going into Game 1 on Thursday night is the discrepancy in these two teams when playing on 3+ days of rest. Pittsburgh is 6-2 in games when playing on 3 or more days of rest this season but Washington is just 1-7 after 3+ days of rest this season which may signify a situational advantage for the Penguins as small road underdogs in Game 1.
The New York Rangers face the Ottawa Senators in the other Eastern Conference second round series. Ottawa appears to be a team being galvanized by a few great stories that have unfolded around their team. The return of forward Clarke MacArthur following multiple injuries and concussions in his career has bolstered the team not only on the ice but given them an emotional boost as well. He scored the game and series winning goal in OT to defeat the Boston Bruins on Sunday.
Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson is playing at a high level here in the playoffs in spite of a tough personal situation ongoing in his life as his wife battles cancer. These two situations have gotten the team to rally around each other and I think it’s something that may carry the Ottawa Senators a long way and at least carry them past the NY Rangers here in the second round.
New York was solid in disposing of the Montreal Canadiens in 6 games in the opening round but Montreal was borderline inept offensively throughout that series. Ottawa will pose a tougher challenge for a NY Rangers defense that can sometimes be vulnerable to tenacious and strong fore-checking teams.
The Senators have the ability to play that kind of style in the offensive zone and NY Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist for as sharp as he was against Montreal will also face a taller order against a team with a bit more upside offensively. New York is laying more than -140 in this series and I see plenty of value at a plus price to endorse the Ottawa Senators as an underdog of +129 to win this series as I view them as much closer to even with the NY Rangers than the series price suggests.
Ottawa at an underdog price is my favorite series price wager of the second round.