NHL Betting: The Week's Biggest Stories
by Trevor Whenham - 04/14/2009
As we get ready to head into the NHL playoffs - one of the better tournaments in sports - there is an incredible number of storylines to get our minds around as we get ready to make some playoff cash. Here are 23 thoughts on my mind as we get ready for the second season, which starts on Wednesday and carries on well into June.
1. I know they aren't a playoff team, but, for once, Phoenix deserves attention for something other than their dismal finances. Al Montoya, the goalie that was a star at Michigan and internationally with the U.S. junior program, made his debut at the end of the season, and it was incredibly impressive. He had one disastrous start against the Kings in which he allowed six goals, but that was his only loss. He allowed just two goals in his other three starts, and won all of them. It has taken him longer than expected to come along, but this could be a first sign that he is ready to be very relevant next year.
2. It won't show on paper, but the most important player on any team in the playoffs could be Claude Lemieux. The 43-year-old is back from a jaw injury and ready for the playoffs. The Sharks are clearly talented, but Lemieux has four Stanley Cups and mountains of playoff credibility. There is perhaps no one in the league that is more qualified to lead a team into the playoffs and keep them on task. The expectations are extremely high for this team, and Lemieux won't let his teammates forget it.
3. The Rangers scored twice in the third period on Sunday. That's unremarkable, except for the fact that it was the first time they had done that in 11 games excluding empty nets. Their lack of the ability to score when it matters most is just one of several reasons why I think the Rangers' playoff run will be short and ugly.
4. No team comes into the playoffs in worse shape than the Flames. Before a meaningless win on Saturday night the Flames dropped six of nine games, and it seems like they haven't scored on the power play since Bush was President. The first Bush. They threw away an eight-point lead over Vancouver for the division lead, and now have to start on the road against Chicago - a team they didn't beat all year. I live in Calgary and I'm fiercely loyal, and even I can't come up with a reason to believe Calgary will win the series.
5. Columbus is another squad limping into the postseason. They won just twice in their last eight, and dropped their final two games. Most concerning, 20-year-old goalie Steve Mason was uncharacteristically weak down the stretch. His final GAA was just 2.29, the second best in the league, yet Mason allowed at least three goals in six of those final eight games. Mason is in new territory here - he's played more games than he is used to, and the pressure is massive. Hopefully this is just a blip and not a sign of bigger problems.
6. The Sharks don't need any advantage this year, but they get one anyway. Their first round opponent is Anaheim, so the travel will be as painless as it can possibly be. West Coast teams often face incredibly ugly travel, so this is a treat and will keep San Jose fresh. Only playing a four- or five-game series will keep them fresh, too, and they could certainly do that. Anaheim was red hot down the stretch, but San Jose is much more talented, and that will show.
7. Detroit's goaltending situation is a big story, but I'm not nearly as panicked as most people seem to be. Chris Osgood has not had a good season, but he has played well down the stretch - he has allowed more than three goals just once in his last 10 games, and he has allowed two or fewer six times. Detroit might not go all the way, but I don't think it will be Osgood's fault. Remember, this guy is the defending Cup-winning goalie.
8. Vancouver was 23-7-2 down the stretch. St. Louis was 21-7-6. When was the last time that there was a legitimate clash of the titans that was so unlikely or so unheralded?
9. Boston and Montreal meet in a classic old Adams Division showdown, but it's hard to get as excited about this as we did in the old days. Boston comes in playing well, on top of the conference, and as the superior to the Habs in almost every aspect of the game. These teams used to go to war, but this one has the makings of at best a minor skirmish.
10. The series I am most looking forward to in Round 1 is the battle of Pennsylvania. This one has it all. It's a rematch of the conference final last year in which Pittsburgh embarrassed Philadelphia. The teams have the same record this year. The teams are well coached, the potent offenses are firing, the goaltending is soft enough on both sides to keep it interesting - this one could be a classic.
11. Maybe I'm a pessimist, but I see this as a decidedly and disappointingly chalky first round. Carolina is the only likely first round upset I see, and I would be surprised if there were more than two.