With Olympic celebrations and trade deadlines finally out of the way, teams may now be able to get focused again on the immediate task at hand. In a mere matter of weeks, only 16 teams will still be playing hockey, and a lot of teams may finally be coming to the true realization of where they are about to end up. Equally dangerous to the teams trying to make a push for the playoffs though may be the teams who know that they are already out of the race, as these teams will now be playing loose and relaxed. As such, the only teams who may not be as sharp as their usual selves may be the teams who have already firmly secured their playoff seedings. Alternatively, teams who will be clinging to the final few playoff spots available may now be feeling some added pressure as well, and their grips on their sticks may become a lot tighter than before. These are all factors to consider as we enter the final quarter of the season.
_ _ _
New York Islanders (26-29-8) vs. Atlanta Thrashers (27-24-10)
Neither of these two teams is actually that far out of the playoff race, as they are both within 5 points of the 8th place Bruins, but both teams have really been playing loose hockey over their last few games. The Islanders have seen their games go over the posted total in 4 of their last 5 games, and the Thrashers in 5 of their last 6, and in each case, they have alternated between wins and losses. The Islanders have, however, won the first 3 meetings between these two teams this season, and the value seems to be with them and the Over 5.5.
Ottawa Senators (36-24-4) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (25-30-7)
Perhaps the biggest change in Ottawa’s play recently has been on the defensive end, as they have given up 16 goals in their last 4 games—a far cry from all the 2’s and 1’s they posted during their 11-game win streak. Nobody really wants to give Carolina too much respect, but they have outscored their last 5 opponents by a combined score of 21 to 11, and are finally starting to look like the Eastern Conference finalists of last season. It is probably too little too late for the Hurricanes, but their record is no indication of how good they are actually playing.
Tampa Bay Lightning (26-25-11) vs. Washington Capitals (42-13-8)
The question here isn’t whether or not Washington is likely to beat Tampa Bay on home ice, but rather how likely they are to do it. The Capitals would need to win a minimum of 75% of the time in this situation for them to be a profitable bet, whereas Tampa Bay would only need to win a minimum of 30% of the time. Quite frankly, I’m not too interested in either side of this proposition.
Pittsburgh Penguins (37-22-4) vs. New York Rangers (29-27-7)
This is an important game for both teams. If Pittsburgh wins, they would vault over New Jersey for the division lead, and if New York wins, they would potentially vault over Boston for the 8th seed in the conference. If both teams are watching the standings, then they should be gearing up for a tight-checking affair and a really close game.
Toronto Maple Leafs (19-32-11) vs. Boston Bruins (27-23-11)
It wouldn’t be that surprising to see the Leafs lose another game here, but Toronto really should start to loosen up soon and just play for the sake of playing. Boston, meanwhile, will have about 5 teams breathing down their necks for the final playoff spot, and if they are at all nervous about that, their offensive production may decrease even further (a seemingly impossible feat). It just doesn’t seem right to be laying 85 cents on the Bruins in any situation right now.
Los Angeles Kings (38-20-4) vs. Nashville Predators (34-23-5)
The only team with a better record over their last 10 games than Carolina is the LA Kings, who are sitting at 8-1-1. Nashville can’t really match up to Los Angeles in terms of either depth or talent, and the Kings should be able to wear the Predators out over the course of 3 periods. The Predators were once the hottest team in the league themselves, but lately, they’ve been playing .500 hockey and simply allowing too many goals.
St Louis Blues (29-25-9) vs. Dallas Stars (28-22-12)
This could be the Blues’ final push for the playoffs, as they have now won 4 straight games, and sit just 3 points back of 8th place Detroit. Dallas is actually just 1 point ahead of St Louis in 10th place in the Western Conference, and this will be a critical game for both teams. The Blues have really come alive on offense, and Chris Mason has been excellent, making them a very live dog in this game.
Colorado Avalanche (36-21-6) vs. Phoenix Coyotes (37-22-5)
The Avalanche are actually still in a dogfight with the Canucks for top spot in the Northwest Division, and have been matching Vancouver almost stride for stride. Colorado is a very streaky team, and usually strings together 2 or 3 wins at a time, but they have not been very good in back-to-back situations this season. Phoenix, meanwhile, will be looking to bounce back from a 5-2 home loss to the Blues, and should be much sharper in their second game back from the break. The Coyotes may also be sporting a few new trade-deadline acquisitions in this game, including former Av, Wojtek Wolski, but will there be instant chemistry or will fine-tuning be needed? Be very careful not to lay too much juice with the favourite here.
Montreal Canadiens (30-28-6) vs. San Jose Sharks (40-14-9)
I actually think that the Sharks will be awake for this game in an attempt to recapture top spot in the Western Conference from the Blackhawks, but Montreal is another one of those teams that really builds on wins, and both of their goaltenders are extremely streaky and currently looking quite sharp. Due to the intimidation factor of playing a Western Conference powerhouse, Montreal will probably attempt to play the proverbial ‘perfect road game’ here, and keep offensive hockey to a minimum, and ironically, this is what actually makes them a dangerous team. Your money can almost certainly find a better spot than on the Sharks at -230.