NHL Handicapping: Biggest Games to Close out Regular Season
by Trevor Whenham - 4/8/2014
We are getting close to the bitter end of this NHL regular season. No team has more than four games left, and a week from now it will be all over. There are a lot of games in the closing week of a season that just don't mean much - either because the teams are just desperate for their season to end or they have their postseason fate determined and are just waiting and trying to stay healthy. For some teams, though, nothing matters more than these last few days.
Here are five remaining games that really stand out because of their significance and because of the importance to bettors they hold as a result:
Colorado at Edmonton, April 8: Colorado is almost certain to be playing Chicago in the first round of the playoffs - a massive test for both teams and a potential classic for the opening round. The biggest question is which team is going to have the home-ice advantage. Colorado is in the driver's seat in that race right now. They have a two-point advantage, and they have a game in hand. They are giving that game back in this one, but it is a very winnable contest at the struggling Oilers. Edmonton has shown that they can play the spoiler, though, as they beat up on Anaheim over the weekend. Colorado needs to come out strong in this one and open up a gap that would likely be enough to keep them on top the rest of the way. It's a huge opportunity for a young team. That's not all that is on the line for them either. The Avs sit just four points behind the Blues with four games left to play. That is likely enough to keep St. Louis on top, but they have lost three of five and are not at their best. If Colorado can make a statement here with a big win it could set them up for a late charge. Finishing first in the division would mean a much easier first-round matchup than Chicago, so the incentive is high.
Toronto at Tampa Bay, April 8: It has been a disastrous end to the season for the Maple Leafs - a massively wasted opportunity. Frankly, there is little that could make me happier. I just can't stand the Leafs. They now sit three games behind Columbus, and the Blue Jackets have a game in hand, so their chances of making the postseason are on life support. To make it they need a lot of luck, and they can't afford any missteps. Their last three games are on the road, so it's crucial that they start out with a bang. Tampa Bay could also use some wins because they have a chance at securing home-ice advantage in their upcoming series against the Habs, but they are four points back. They have a game in hand, though, so they could gain some ground here with a big win. Both teams could use a win here, so motivation will be in full supply.
Detroit at Pittsburgh, April 9: Finishing seventh in the East is very important this year. The team that earns that spot avoids the very tough Bruins in the first round. Detroit is one point ahead of Columbus, and both teams have four games to play. Their next game is at Buffalo, so that is very manageable. Then they travel to Pittsburgh - their second game in two nights. This is a tough test but one that Detroit absolutely needs to overcome to wind up where they want to. Pittsburgh is not playing their best right now, and they have absolutely nothing to play for until the postseason rolls around, so it is a game that Detroit should be able to manage.
San Jose at Anaheim, April 9: The race for the top of the Pacific Division has been a massive battle all year, and it could come down to the final day of the season. This game could easily end it, though. With their win in Vancouver, the Ducks moved three points up on the Sharks, and both teams have three games remaining. If they can win this game then they will clinch the top spot in the division, and they would get to avoid the Kings in the opening round. If the Sharks win, though, they are just a point behind and they have the slightly easier remaining schedule. The Sharks have won three of four in this rivalry this year, so they are fully capable of the win here - though it is far from easy winning in the land of Mickey and Minnie.
Dallas at Phoenix, April 13: Right now the Stars are a single point ahead of the Coyotes for the final wild card spot, and both teams have four games remaining. There are no other teams in the hunt for that spot, so it all comes down to which team can finish better. They play each other in the final game for both teams, and there is an obvious opportunity for this to be the one that decides it all. Phoenix has gone into a skid at the wrong time, and Dallas is the better overall team, so it could easily be decided before now and this game will signify nothing beyond the burning regret the Coyotes feel. If the teams stay close, though, then this has the makings of a dandy.
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