We have a two-game playoff slate tonight, featuring Game 2 between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Colorado Avalanche, as well as the start of the Canada series featuring the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets.
Let's get to the picks.
Vegas Golden Knights (+165) at Colorado Avalanche (-200) — Total: 5.5
Was Game 1 a sacrificial lamb for the Vegas Golden Knights?
In an effort to give goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury a break after a grueling series with the Minnesota Wild, Vegas started backup Robin Lehner against the Avs at Ball Arena.
Few NHL teams boast that kind of goaltender depth — Lehner would be a top-of-the-line starter on most teams — so Vegas undoubtedly felt comfortable trotting its backup out there.
The experiment didn't work.
Living up to their force-of-nature name, the Avalanche buried Lehner by a touchdown, winning 7-1 in Game 1.
Let's hope Fleury got enough rest.
We know the story of both teams by now. The Colorado Avalanche are the Stanley Cup favorite, able to drop six goals at a moment's notice or play a defensive game to win 3-1 as well.
Vegas has similar firepower potential, but its consistency has been a problem, especially in the playoffs. When Fleury is in top form, Vegas' greatest strength is its defense, but stopping the Avalanche — especially the way they've been skating these playoffs — is another matter entirely.
I've said this before in this column — if this was the regular season, I'd happily take the plus money on Vegas in this game. Minus-200 odds for any team is steep, even if that team resembles less a group of skaters and more an unstoppable buzzsaw. I also don't believe Colorado will have its way with the Knights two games in a row; Vegas is too good a team and it has shown a keen ability to bounce back after a loss all year.
I'm more interested in this total. It's interesting that it opened at 5.5, considering Game 1's result and how Colorado has scored at will during its ridiculous 10-game winning streak. That said, the line is at -115, so it remains favored.
Vegas has done well in stopping the Avalanche's ... well ... avalanche during the regular season, but this ain't the regular season. Colorado is skating straight toward the Stanley Cup final, and as good as Vegas' defense is, it will be stunning for them to not only hold Colorado's attack in check but also score enough to win in the same process.
The last time Colorado was held to two or fewer goals in a loss? May 10 at San Jose.
Before that, April 28 — against these same Golden Knights in Vegas.
The point is: Good luck holding the Avalanche to less than three goals when they're at home. In fact, the Avs haven't scored less than four goals these entire playoffs. The over cashed in every game of their series with the Blues, and in Game 1 of this series. Vegas playoff games have hit the over in four out of eight chances, but as we very well know, the Knights' offense is a different beast when Max Pacioretty is skating (the team demolished the Wild in Game 7 when Pacioretty came back).
I can see Colorado getting some more quick goals on a Vegas team that has to be tired, which will then force the Knights to attack for fear of another Game 1 result. Phillipp Grubauer has been lights-out of late, but with Pacioretty back in the fold, Vegas' attack is as potent as there is in the NHL.
(Or, that -115 could be a trap and the game ends 3-1, Vegas. Playoff hockey, what are you gonna do?)
This is a big game for both teams — let's let the pucks fly.
Pick: OVER 5.5 (-115)
Montreal Canadiens (+120) at Winnipeg Jets (-145) — Total: 5.5
This might be known as the Canadian series, but to me, this is more the Battle of the Upsetters.
Both the Jets and Canadiens scoffed at the idea that they were destined for first-round exits. Winnipeg silenced Connor McDavid and the Oilers en route to a sweep, while Montreal came back from down 3-1 to Toronto to win the series — something the Leafs are dreadfully familiar with.
The way Montreal took control of that series is interesting, as it was able to expose Toronto's fatal team flaw. Montreal decided to take Auston Matthews out of the equation, forcing a Leafs team to have someone else step up. Already missing John Tavares and with Mitchell Marner being as cold as the ice he was skating on, Toronto's lack of scoring depth was exposed. All Montreal had to do at that point was play smart hockey, get a couple of pucks past Jack Campbell, and hold the fort.
It took them seven games, but they made it happen. Now they'll face a Jets team that has been chilling for nine days. The Jets made quick work of the Oilers, but now you have to wonder — will the rest they earned from that sweep cause rust (to quote Liz Loza), or have the Jets used that time to prepare and crush a tired Canadiens team in Game 1?
This series looks to be a toss-up. Both teams have a deep forward stable (the Habs might not have that one prolific goal-scorer, but their skaters are potent), but the Jets have a clear advantage at goaltender while Montreal's overall defense is entirely better than Winnipeg's.
The Jets weren't exactly world-beaters at home — they were much more potent away — but I still like them here as the rested team with the better goaltender. The Habs won't be able to implement the same strategy they used to come back against the Leafs here; the Jets are too deep on offense.
The Jets' defense has plenty of holes that Montreal could expose (the way the Oilers did), so while +120 is great odds for the Habs, I can't ignore just how mentally and emotionally grueling their series with the Maple Leafs was. If the Jets' defense wasn't so porous and if they didn't have a penchant for allowing so many high-danger chances, I might've taken them on the puck line. But that would be disrespectful to a Canadiens team with a strong blue-line rotation.
That said, I'll take Winnipeg in Game 1, and I like their odds up to -150.
Pick: Winnipeg Jets ML (-145)
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