I looked at the four Stanley Cup quarterfinal games starting Wednesday in my Monday preview here at Doc's, and while those are some quality matchups, I really like the Thursday four-game slate of openers better because I think all four series underdogs have a very reasonable shot at winning the series -- compared to only thinking one does among Wednesday's games (Islanders). Bovada did add two interesting props since I wrote Monday. It's a Canadian site, so it often has Canada-specific props. It asks whether a Canadian team will win the Cup. "No" is a heavy -600 favorite and "yes" at +400. And will two Canadian teams reach the Finals? No is -5000 and yes +1200. I can't recommend either as I only think Montreal has a shot of getting there and/or winning it.
Penguins vs. Rangers
Game 1 is at 7 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network. All the Rangers have to do is not lose another home game the rest of the way and the Presidents' Trophy winners will win the Cup for the first time since 1994. Despite losing star goalie Henrik Lundqvist for a large chunk of the second half of the season, the Rangers set team records with 53 wins and with 113 points. In no surprise, the Blueshirts are going to ride Lundqvist in the postseason despite how good Cam Talbot was when King Henrik was hurt. Pittsburgh nearly flopped in a big way but snuck into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season by beating the hapless Buffalo Sabres 2-0. Pittsburgh went 4-9-2 in its last 15 games but is in the postseason for the ninth straight year. Unfortunately, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been very shaky over his postseason career since winning the Cup in 2009. These two met in the conference semifinals last year, and the Rangers rallied from a 3-1 series deficit. Both teams will be missing key defenseman. Pittsburgh's Kris Letang, one of the best in the NHL, isn't expected back at all in these playoffs with a concussion. New York's Kevin Klein Klein hasn't played since March 11 and is doubtful for Game 1 with an arm problem. He had nine goals and 26 points in 65 contests. New York won the season series 3-1. Two went at least to overtime. The Bovada favored series results at +350 are Rangers in five and Rangers in seven. Seven games is the favorite at +180.
Red Wings vs. Lightning
Game 1 is at 7:30 pm. on CNBC. It's the 24th straight season the Red Wings are in the playoffs, by far the longest current streak in the four major American team sports. The overriding story line here is that the general manager of the Lightning and the guy who turned this into the most exciting young roster in the NHL is one of the greatest Red Wings ever in Steve Yzerman. The Bolts finished with 108 points, just two behind Montreal for the Atlantic title. Detroit was third with 100. I'm fascinated to watch Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos, he of the 43 goals (second in NHL), go against two of the NHL's best defensive forwards on Pavel Datsyuk (one of best in history) and Henrik Zetterberg. The Lightning led the NHL in goals per game. In a moderate surprise, at least to me, the Wings will not start veteran Jimmy Howard in net for Game 1 but young Petr Mrazek. He was much better than Howard down the stretch but hasn't played in the postseason. Tampa defenseman Braydon Coburn could play in Game 1. He hasn't since March 10 due to a lower-body injury. The Lightning won the season series 3-1. The favored series result is Tampa in five games at +350, but the series ending in six or seven games are +180 favorites.
Wild vs. Blues
Game 1 is at 9:30 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network. St. Louis won the incredibly deep Central Division, and its reward is the best team in the Western Conference since Jan. 15 and the hottest goaltender in the West in Minnesota's Devin Dubnyk. The Wild were 28-9-3 since that date, which was when Dubnyk made his debut with the team after coming over from Arizona. The Blues had first-round home-ice advantage last year against Chicago and lost four straight after taking the first two in St. Louis. The Wild upset Central Division champion Colorado in the first round last season before losing to the Blackhawks. St. Louis hasn't announced its Game 1 goalie yet. Youngster Jake Allen was 22-7-4 with a 2.28 GAA and .913 save percentage this season, and he played in four of the team's final six regular-season games. However, Brian Elliott played the season finale against the Wild, a 4-2 win. He is 7-2-0 with a 2.32 goals-against average and .895 save percentage with two shutouts against Minnesota in his career. He was 6-0-0 against the Wild before back-to-back losses against them, 3-1 on March 14 and 6-3 on March 21. Allen has never started a playoff game so that could be the edge that gives Game 1 to Elliott. Minnesota and St. Louis split four regular-season meetings. The favored series result at +350 is Blues in seven. At +175, seven games is also the favorite on exact games.
Jets vs. Ducks
The last Game 1 is at 10:30 p.m. ET on CNBC. The Ducks led the West with 109 points (tied with Blues but Anaheim is the top seed) while the Jets were only fifth in the Central with 99 points, but I have no question in my mind that Winnipeg could steal this. Know this: the Ducks have lost a Game 7 at Honda Center to a lower-seeded team in each of the past two postseasons. I thought Winnipeg might miss the playoffs when arguably its best player, defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, was suspended for four of the final five games of the season. I see a potential upset because the Jets seem better in goal. Ondrej Pavelec is 9-2-1 in his last 12 decisions, although he has never played in an NHL playoff game. It looks to be Frederik Andersen for Anaheim, but he lost the No. 1 job during last season's playoffs, so he might be a bit gun-shy. Andersen has started 10 times since the trade deadline and John Gibson has started eight. The Ducks won all three regular-season matchups but they haven't played since January. Another reason the Ducks worry me: They ranked 28th on the power play. The favored series results at +400 are Ducks in five and seven games. Seven games is the +175 favorite on exact games.
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