Saturday’s short NHL playoff slate features the potential conclusion of a Round 1 series and the beginning of what should be a highly-contested second round series.
I’ll admit, it’s tough to back a side in either of these games. The Toronto Maple Leafs are -190 road favorites against the desperate Montreal Canadiens (+170), while the Boston Bruins are -185 home faves over the scrappy New York Islanders (+165). While both underdogs present value, I just can’t get myself to back either of them.
So, for today’s best bet, I’m heading to the totals market:
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Under 5.5 (-121) in Montreal-Toronto
The Montreal-Toronto series has been one of the lower-scoring first round matchups. The under is 3-2 in the series, and there have been three games with four total goals or fewer.
As I wrote in my Thursday piece, the Canadiens struggled to convert on their high-danger opportunities early on in the series. That changed in Game 5, as the Habs lit the lamp four times to send the series back home. Montreal relied on some ugly goals to jump out to a 3-0 lead that they almost surrendered in Game 5. Puck luck finally went Montreal’s way in Game 5, but I have a hard time seeing that continue against a Toronto team that’s controlled play throughout the series with an expected goals for percentage of 58.82. Canadiens netminder Carey Price has allowed some questionable goals throughout the series, but I expect him to be locked in at home with his team’s season on the line.
I’m also relying on a little history with this pick, as goal averages tend to decrease in Game 6 and Game 7 of a playoff series. Teams tighten up and play more risk-averse hockey in the later stages of the series. Of course, you’re also talking to the guy who had the under in Game 7 of the Vegas-Minnesota series, and that game saw six goals from the Golden Knights alone… That’s why they call it gambling!
Thoughts on Bruins-Islanders
The Islanders deserve all the credit in the world for finding a way to close out their first round series against Pittsburgh. However, there were some really ugly stretches in that series where New York clearly looked inferior to the Penguins. The goaltending matchup made the difference, as New York’s Ilya Sorokin was far superior to Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry between the pipes.
That’s sort of how the Islanders are built to win under coach Barry Trotz. Keep games tight, be opportunistic in the offensive end and let goaltending be the difference. That strategy might not work as well against a loaded Bruins lineup that features The Perfection Line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, plus trade acquisition Taylor Hall. New York also will face a much stiffer test in goal against Tukka Rask.
While I believe Boston is the superior team, laying -185 in Game 1 is a price too steep for me. If you want to get a bet in on the Bruins without drinking so much juice, I’d recommend taking Boston to win in regulation, which is just -109.
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