NHL Handicapping: Teams that Could Close Strong
by Trevor Whenham - 4/2/2014
Less than two weeks from now the NHL season will be over. For some teams - like the two teams, Calgary and Edmonton, that are closest to where I live - that is exceptionally good news. It's the merciful end of months of suffering. For other teams, though, there is a lot left to determine and a lot to play for. That means pressure. Some teams thrive under pressure and elevate their game. Others feel the weight of the world on their shoulders and can't bear it. Bettors who can spot the teams who can thrive down the stretch and achieve what they are chasing can find some nice value in the closing days of the regular season. Here are four teams that could treat bettors very well between now and the middle of April:
Tampa Bay Lightning: This team should be struggling after losing Martin St. Louis at the trade deadline. He was the heart and soul of this team for a very long time. Over the course of this year, though, we have seen that nothing can kill this team. If a team can maintain their pace after losing the best pure point scorer in the league for much of the year then they are tough. The Lightning beat the Canadiens on Tuesday night to move into a tie with them for the third and fourth spots in the standings in the Eastern Conference. This is one tough-and-talented team - especially now that Steven Stamkos is back in action. The incentive to beat Montreal and wind up in third is high because those two teams are destined to meet in the first round of the playoffs with the higher seed having the home-ice advantage. They have exceptional goaltending, strong offense, excellent coaching, and obvious mental toughness. This is a team that is going to close the season out strong.
Colorado Avalanche: I was skeptical about the experiment of Patrick Roy as head coach here. Roy was a generational player, and Wayne Gretzky proved how hard it can be for that caliber of player to succeed behind the bench. I didn't need to worry, though - Roy has done an amazing job. He has this team playing tough, and their rebuild is miles ahead of schedule. Like Tampa Bay, they are fighting for third place and the potential advantages of that seeding in later rounds. They currently sit a single point behind San Jose, and they have a game in hand. They also have to be careful, though, because Chicago is just three points further back, and they will be highly motivated to grab home-ice advantage in the first-round showdown between Colorado and Chicago. The challenge was big enough for this young team already, but they have now lost Matt Duchene, their best player, for about a month with a knee injury. I think this team is tough enough to overcome that challenge - they certainly have been so far. Given that as a rallying point, I actually expect this team to finish particularly strong - and provide some nice value the rest of the way in the regular season.
Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks sit just three points behind the Blues for the top record in the Western Conference. With a conference that is as deep and competitive as this one is, that home ice throughout the playoffs could be a huge advantage. The Ducks went into a late-season swoon early in March, losing six of eight to threaten their perch atop the conference. Since then, though, they have remembered how good they can be, and they have four wins and an overtime loss in their last five to grab nine of 10 points. They have been a whole different team, and they are giving the distinct impression that they plan to keep playing like this. This team is going to finish strong.
Dallas Stars: The Stars made a big statement on Tuesday night when they went into Washington and won 5-0. The Capitals are not a good team right now, but a win like that on the road is still impressive. That moves Dallas into a tie with the Coyotes for the eighth and final playoff spot with seven games left, though Dallas currently has the tiebreak because of more wins, and they have a game in hand. The team has won five of their last six games, and is playing inspired, angry hockey right now. In Seguin and Benn they have some ridiculously strong young offensive talent, and they are leading this team. That is going to be enough to get them into the playoffs, and they are going to make a statement in the last two weeks of the season.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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