NHL playoff picks: 4 best bets for Thursday
Chris Peters makes four money line picks for Thursday night's NHL playoffs action.
Hurricanes to beat Bruins
The home team is undefeated in this series and has scored no less than four goals in a game so far, while allowing no more than two. It’s been a predictable series in that way. Boston will also return home with a lineup that should be closer to full than it was before. There is a chance Hampus Lindholm is back in the lineup after getting knocked out of Game 1 and Charlie McAvoy cleared COVID-19 protocols in time to be back for Game 5.
This is setting up decently well for the Bruins to get back into the series and force a Game 7, but I’m concerned over how poor Boston looked in Game 5. They were thoroughly beaten in that game, although this series has shown that game-to-game momentum may not matter much, but the Hurricanes got goals from throughout their lineup and they managed to beat rookie goalie Jeremy Swayman for the first time.
Swayman will now return to home ice where he won each of his first two postseason starts. Oddly enough, he wasn’t as good on home ice during the regular season with an .898 save percentage.
In Game 5, the Hurricanes out-chanced the Bruins 40-26 at all strengths and 30-21 at five-on-five. If that happens again in Game 6, Carolina has a great chance of ending the series in Boston. I think they hit their stride in a real way in Game 5 and even though the Bruins are getting key players back in their lineup, I think Carolina closes this one out tonight.
Lightning to beat Maple Leafs
The good news for Toronto is that they found a way to win Game 5. The bad news is, the Lightning almost never lose two in a row. They’ve won each of their last 16 games after a loss during the last three postseasons including the two prior times in this series. On top of that, the Lightning will be playing at home.
There’s another key stat, one that continues to haunt Toronto. In their last six opportunities to advance to the second round, they are 0-6. You wonder how much that plays into the psyche of a team that has all the pressure in the world to advance past the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. I just don’t know if this Maple Leafs team has the killer instinct to take care of the Lightning in this Game 6.
The biggest obstacle for the Maple Leafs may be Andrei Vasilevskiy who has essentially been unbeatable after a loss. The Lightning netminder is 16-0 with a .945 save percentage and five shutouts in those games since 2020. That has allowed the Bolts to out-score opponents 63-25 in those 16 games.
Toronto is having a special season, and they deserved the win in Game 5 with their improved play after falling behind 2-0, but it’s next to impossible to bet against Tampa after a loss, especially at home. A Lightning win would set up a spectacular Game 7, too, which would be great fun for those of us without a rooting interest.
Blues to beat Wild
The more things change, the more they stay the same for Minnesota sports fans. The Wild have been as exciting as they’ve been, probably ever, given the incredible play of Kirill Kaprizov, who has been a machine. But now the Wild find themselves on the brink of elimination – a familiar position for a team that has so often found itself in the mushy middle of the NHL. Never bad enough for a high draft pick, but never good enough to truly contend for the Cup.
They laid an absolute egg on home ice against the Blues, losing 5-2 thanks in large part to a third-period hat trick by Vladimir Tarasenko and the shakiest goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury maybe of the entire season.
We don’t know for sure yet, but there is a chance Cam Talbot is going to go in for Fleury with Minnesota’s season on the line. Talbot had a decent enough season before the Wild brought in Fleury and has a .923 career save percentage. It might help, but I don’t know if it’s going to be enough.
The Blues also made a goalie change and Jordan Binnington has gone 2-0 with a .935 save percentage, playing some of his best hockey since the 2019 Stanley Cup run. That has made a difference as they’ve now won two straight in the series for the first time. They also outscored the Wild 10-4 in those two games.
Game 5 felt like a deflating loss for Minnesota, beaten by a more battle-hardened, experienced team. It will be tough for St. Louis to beat Minnesota three straight times, but I don’t think the Blues allow this series to shift back to Minnesota.
Kings to beat Oilers
The Oilers have two of the league’s very best players in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but yet again, they find themselves on the brink of elimination in the playoffs. The Oilers have won exactly one playoff series in the McDavid-Draisaitl era. And after what happened on home ice in Game 5, it feels like that number is unlikely to change this year, barring something particularly special.
The Oilers did manage to show some resiliency to come back against the Kings with three third-period goals including a pair late from Draisaitl to force overtime. But then they came out and didn’t even touch the puck and made it 1:12 of overtime before losing.
The Kings have a scrappy, young team that is doing this without its No. 1 defenseman. They have gotten very strong goaltending from veteran netminder Jonathan Quick and now their regular-season top scorer Adrien Kempe has opened his account with two goals in Game 5. Things are trending in a very strong way for Los Angeles and now they have a chance to close out the series on home ice.
The biggest reason I have very little faith in the Oilers to get themselves back in this series is because goalie Mike Smith just hasn’t been good enough and certainly wasn’t in Game 5. It’s also maddening for Oilers fans because McDavid played Game 5 like a man possessed. That third period may have been some of the best, most aggressive hockey we’ve seen from McDavid and it still didn’t matter.
That’s a deflating experience. One thing I know for sure, though. McDavid and Draisaitl are going to do everything in their power to will this team across the finish line. They are going to be a very difficult team to close out, but in this battle of veteran goaltenders, I have more confidence in Jonathan Quick than I do Mike Smith. To me, that’s going to be the difference here. The Kings know they can’t let this series go back to Edmonton.
NHL SUPER BOOST
Hurricanes and Blues both to win