The seemingly never-ending NHL regular season actually finishes four weeks from Saturday, with the equally never-ending Stanley Cup playoffs set to drop the puck on Tuesday, April 10. With March Madness and the start of baseball season to occupy our time for the next month, the NHL postseason will be upon us before you know it.
With that said, Bovada, which usually has the most unique hockey props, has released some odds on a few teams on the playoff bubble making into the second season. First, let’s look at the Tampa Bay Lightning, who rode aged goalie Dwayne Roloson all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals a season ago before falling to the Boston Bruins, 1-0, in the winner-take-all game. And if the Bolts are going to get back to the playoffs, it likely will again be on Roloson’s shoulders.
Tampa Bay enters Wednesday’s action with 68 points, which is tied for 10th in the East with Buffalo. It appears that the first seven playoff spots are almost assured in that conference, with Ottawa at No. 7 having a six-point lead over No. 8 Winnipeg (78-72) Dangerous Washington is there at No. 9 with 70 points ahead of the Lightning and Sabres.
Bovada lists props on Tampa Bay and Buffalo making the playoffs – ‘no’ is -500 for both and ‘yes’ is +300 for both. Tampa Bay doesn’t seem like a good bet to take yes. That’s because Roloson has been lousy this year, going 8-13-2 with a 3.82 goals-against average and .878 save percentage. That goals-against and save percentage are last among all qualifying goalies.
Roloson had been supplanted as the Bolts’ No. 1 by Mathieu Garon (23-16-4, 2.85/.901), but Garon is now out three to four weeks with a torn groin muscle (so essentially the regular season). He entered Tuesday night's game with the Senators on a 6-0-1 run and left after extending himself to make a save in the first period. Roloson entered and gave up five goals on 30 shots. The Lightning, who are last in the NHL in goals against, were looking for a goalie before the trade deadline but didn’t pull the trigger. That will hurt now.
The Sabres have Ryan Miller in net, but the former Vezina winner has been just good not great this year. He entered Wednesday at 22-18-5 with a 2.60 GAA and .915 save percentage. Last week Miller had shutouts in impressive Buffalo wins in Anaheim and San Jose. But he allowed three goals in a potentially key loss at Winnipeg on Monday. Buffalo’s main problem is offense, ranking 26th in goals per game at 2.4. Second-leading scorer Thomas Vanek has only eight points since the calendar flipped to 2012. And I don’t like how the Sabres’ season ends: at Philadelphia and at Boston. Buffalo misses out as well.
Bovada also offers odds on the Maple Leafs finally returning to the playoffs, with no at -300 and yes at +200. Take no there. Toronto enters Wednesday in 10th in the East, a point behind the No. 9 Lightning and Sabres. Unfortunately for the Leafs, they lost star winger Joffrey Lupul on Tuesday for perhaps the rest of the regular season with a separated shoulder. He is second on the Leafs with 25 goals and 67 points in 66 games this season. Phil Kessel alone won’t be able to carry Toronto to the playoffs.
I do think the Capitals will have enough to overtake Winnipeg for that eighth and final spot. If not, interim Caps Coach Dale Hunter might not be back. And Bovada offers a prop on whether he is the team’s head coach to start the 2012-13 season: yes is -140 with no at even money. In late November, Washington fired Bruce Boudreau and replaced him with Hunter; the former Caps captain is one of four players to have his number retired by the franchise.
Hunter’s contract is only through the end of this season, so if management doesn’t like what it sees it won’t cost anything to let Hunter walk. And things don’t look good right now. Washington enters Thursday’s game vs. Tampa Bay on a three-game losing streak and Alex Ovechkin (26 goals, 23 assists, minus-9 rating) remains a shell of his former self. The Caps’ potential make-or-break stretch starts Saturday when six of their next seven are on the road. Included are visits to powerhouses Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia and Chicago – not to mention a big game at Winnipeg.
I think the Caps bring Hunter back regardless. He’s popular with the fans and was successful running the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, one of the best franchises in all of the minors. Hunter deserves and should get a full season in 2012-13 to prove himself as an NHL head coach.
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