NHL playoff picks: 4 best bets for Sunday
Chris Peters makes four money line picks for Sunday's NHL playoffs action, including Game 3 between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.
Lightning to beat Panthers
The Panthers have been picking up the pieces from a heartbreaking 2-1 loss in Game 2 where Lightning forward Ross Colton scored the game-winner in the dying seconds. That’s the bad news for them. The good news is that they had a far better chance to pull out a win in Game 2 than they did in Game 1. But now they find themselves on the road against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion in a 2-0 hole.
Desperation mode has to be fully set in for the Cats. They dominated the possession battle in Game 2, but the game was a lot closer when it comes to actual scoring chances. As well as Sergei Bobrovsky played in Game 2, the Panthers have still scored just one goal in each of the first two games of this series.
The Lightning have now won four straight games in these playoffs. Over the last three, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been lights out. He has seen at least 30 shots in each of his last four wins and has made 30 or more saves. The big Russian netminder looks fully dialed in and that could be the single-biggest reason to look at the Lightning on the moneyline in this game. They’ve got the goaltending advantage and the better Vasilevskiy looks, the worse Florida’s chances look.
On home ice this season, the Lightning had a +40 goal differential and owned a 27-8-6 record in Tampa, which was sixth-best in the NHL. You have to anticipate a big push from Florida in this game, but the way Tampa Bay won Game 2 gave this series a greater feeling of inevitability.
As Ric Flair always used to say, to be The Man, you gotta beat The Man. Florida hasn’t been able to prove that yet in this series and has lost three straight against their Floridian rivals going back to the regular season. They probably had to gain at least a split at home to have a chance and now the Lightning can put the Panthers on the brink of elimination with a win today.
Rangers to beat Hurricanes
The difficulty of being in both games and not coming away with any wins is troubling for the Rangers. Going back to New York is comforting though. Over the first two games, the Rangers have one goal. Game 2 played right into the Hurricanes’ hands. They kept the shots on goal low and seemed to strangle the Rangers’ often deadly transition game. Meanwhile, Carolina has gotten exceptional goaltending from backup Antti Raanta.
Now the series shifts back to New York and the Rangers have been much more comfortable at home. They won three of their four games against the Penguins in Madison Square Garden and scored 17 goals over those home games. After managing just one in Carolina, they have to find a way to open the flood gates.
There were some positives to take out of Game 2. Over the last two periods, the Rangers were the better team at five-on-five. They also put together 18 scoring chances at five-on-five. They were getting their looks, especially later in the game.
Getting back home is also huge for Igor Shesterkin. The young netminder had a .940 save percentage in 30 home starts during the regular season, as opposed to a .927 in 23 road games. He also stopped 20 of 21 shots in Game 2 and simply did not get the goal support in a winnable game.
This series shifting to Manhattan gives the Rangers a chance to breathe a little bit, rediscover their game and try to play some of the matchups as best they can to their advantage. Shesterkin is better at home and they were probably the better team, at least in terms of puck possession and scoring chances over the latter half of Game 2. The Rangers are poised to get themselves back into this series today.
Flames to beat Oilers
Color me surprised that the Oilers were able to get out of Calgary with a split. The Flames did not get the goaltending they needed from Jacob Markstrom and Connor McDavid was able to flip the “dominate” switch in Game 2. Now the series shifts to Edmonton where the Oilers are more dangerous. After the wild Game 1, the Flames now have a 12-11 goals advantage in the series. So if you like scoring and the overs, this seems to be the series for you.
I’m still not a big believer in the Oilers in this series, but Markstrom’s .838 save percentage through two games is a bit concerning. He is a Vezina Trophy finalist this season and has not played like it through the first two games. That said, he did have better numbers on the road this season.
During the regular-season the Flames lost both games at home to the Oilers and won both games on the road. They scored 12 goals over those two games. I still believe the Flames are the better team and the Oilers have some players playing through some injuries, but they looked good in Game 2. Leon Draisaitl has six points through two games and clearly isn’t 100 per cent healthy. It’s pretty remarkable.
In the end, I think we’ll see a big bounce-back defensively from the Flames. Chris Tanev’s presence on the blue line has been sorely missed, but he did take an optional skate with the team before their departure to Edmonton, so he may be getting closer to returning. They really need him to help contain the Oilers’ high-powered offense.
I just think Calgary is going to push back in a major way in this game. If you look at their underlying numbers from Game 1, the Flames dominated puck possession, doubled up the Oilers in high-danger scoring chances and were ahead on expected goals. They just need a few more saves from Markstrom and have to start putting way more pressure on veteran goalie Mike Smith. I don’t think the Oilers are going to be able to steal a win twice in a row.
Connor McDavid to score 2+ points
There has been only one game this postseason where McDavid didn’t score at least two points. He is averaging 2.22 points per game this postseason. Among players with a minimum of nine games in a single postseason, only Wayne Gretzky – four separate postseasons – Darryl Sittler and Mario Lemieux had a higher points-per-game rate. McDavid is on another planet right now.
If you’re a team in this postseason, you know you have to at least score three goals, because McDavid is almost guaranteed to create two goals or more. I honestly believe he’s playing the best hockey of his career right now. It’s as if he wants to put the team on his back and carry them as far as he can. You can’t normally do that in hockey. There are too many variables, too many line changes and ebbs and flows in a game, but McDavid is coming close to defying the logic that one man can’t carry an entire team through a series.
I might be picking against the Oilers tonight, but McDavid is going to have a lot to say about Game 3.