In my opinion, the big winner of the first week of the Stanley Cup playoffs was the Western Conference top-seeded Dallas Stars. The big loser? The greater Los Angeles area. I didn't give the Stars a great chance of winning the West because while it's a fabulous offensive team, Dallas wasn't great on defense during the regular season. But with has happened to the two L.A. teams thus far, now I'm rethinking that.
The Stars took a 2-0 series lead against Minnesota into Monday's game in Minneapolis. Kari Lehtonen has been great in goal, although it's against a Wild team missing two of its best forwards due to injury and that's easily the worst club in the postseason. My only worry about Dallas now is the status of star forward Tyler Seguin. He missed the final 10 games of the regular season and first of these playoffs with an Achilles injury. He did play 15:40 in Game 2 but apparently tweaked that injury. NHL teams are notoriously vague about these types of things. Seguin was to miss Game 3 and all Coach Lindy Ruff would say is that what Seguin is dealing with is "not his injury, but it is kind of related."
I don't think the Stars can win the Cup without Seguin at 100 percent, so I'd just sit him the rest of the Wild series to heal up for the conference semifinals. I do think they can win the West without him because now it looks as if Dallas won't have to deal with either the Los Angeles Kings, the Western Conference betting favorites entering the playoffs, or Pacific Division champion Anaheim Ducks in the conference finals.
I'm absolutely shocked that Los Angeles entered Monday's Game 3 of their series at San Jose down 2-0. True, the Sharks led the NHL in road wins during the season and set a franchise record, but I never saw them winning both games in L.A. It was a bad week in L.A. hockey as the Ducks also dropped their first two at home against Nashville, each by the same 3-2 score. John Gibson was in net for both of those, but I think you will see Coach Bruce Boudreau go with Frederik Andersen, who has much more playoff experience, in Game 3 on Tuesday. The Ducks' big guns, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, have been held to three total points. Perry is minus-three for the series. The Ducks are also taking too many penalties. They have now lost four straight playoff games, three at home, since leading the Blackhawks 3-2 through five games of last season's Western Conference Finals.
Anaheim is a +100 underdog for Tuesday's game in Nashville, which has a 2-0 playoff series lead for the first time in franchise history. The new odds to win the West are: Stars at +250, Blues (+450), Blackhawks (+500), Sharks (+500), Predators (+600), Ducks (+950), Kings (+1000) and the no-chance Wild at +4000.
Chicago faces a near must-win home game on Tuesday against St. Louis, with the Hawks as -155 favorites. They totally let one get away in Sunday's Game 2, leading 2-1 entering the third but falling 3-2. The Blackhawks had been 70-0-4 since the start of last season when they had the lead at the beginning of the third. The Blackhawks had trouble scoring in 5-on-5 play during the regular season, ranking in the bottom third of the NHL, and that has carried over with just one goal at even strength. The Blues finished second in 5-on-5 goals allowed this season and they have outpaced the Hawks in high-danger scoring chances during 5-on-5 play 35-19. I wouldn't bail on Chicago yet as the Hawks typically play inconsistently early in series and then flip the switch.
My original Western Conference picks to advance were Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles and Anaheim. Not looking great there at the moment.
In the Eastern Conference, Washington is now a huge -105 favorite to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. The Capitals looked to take a commanding 3-0 lead over the Flyers in Philly on Monday night. The Penguins are next at +500 to win the East, followed by the Lightning (+750), Rangers (+750), Islanders (+900), Panthers (+1100), Flyers (+3500) and Red Wings (+3500). I'm sticking with my first-round selections: Washington, the two New York teams and Detroit.
Easily the most interesting series in the East has been Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers, especially in net. Blueshirts star Henrik Lundqvist left Game 1 with an eye injury and New York lost. He was a game-time call for Game 2 on Saturday but was in net and led a 4-2 victory to even the series at one. The Penguins have played both games with third-stringer Jeff Zatkoff in net and he's expected to be in there against Tuesday with Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray still recovering from injuries. It was because of Zatkoff that I liked New York in this series. The Penguins did welcome back star forward Evgeni Malkin in Game 2; he had been out since March 11 and was supposed to be out at least six weeks. Malkin played nearly 20 minutes Saturday and had an assist. The Rangers are actually +101 underdogs for Tuesday. On the series line, the Pens are -165 and Rangers +145. Blueshirts captain Ryan McDonagh hasn't played yet in the series and is doubtful for Tuesday. He did practice Monday for the first time since being hurt two weeks ago.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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