2014 NHL Playoff Record (6-9, -2.25 units)
Saturday we clicked with a winner in the Boston Bruins as they closed out their series with the Detroit Red Wings. We took yesterday off to peruse a little MLB action and now we are back at it. Let's see if we can rack up a few wins to start the week and crawl our way back towards respectability in a first round that has been replete with one goal game games and overtime thrillers. If you're cashing your tickets because your teams are winning in OT then you're not necessarily good, but you definitely are lucky. What's the old saying... Better to be lucky than good? Then my share of luck should be coming due any time now.
Penguins vs. Blue
The Penguins finally found out what they needed to do, to not just beat but dominate the Blue Jackets. Their last game in Pittsburgh on Saturday night told the tale of a 3-1 victory that not only put the Pens in control of the series 3-2, but also was a blueprint for how to dominate the Jackets, as many predicted they would before the series began.
The keys to their success? They hit and they forechecked. For the first time the Penguins were relatively even in terms of hits (37-34 in favor of Columbus) which has been lopsided since Game 1 giving Columbus the tools to slow down the Pittsburgh juggernaut. They also applied pressure in the offensive zone even when they were not in possession of the puck. Hmmm, what kind of revolutionary tactics are these?! Well, it's pretty simple stuff for teams like Boston and San Jose, but the Penguins are a bunch of fancy pants who rely on speed, finesse and playmaking. That alone won't get you to the Promised Land, particularly against a team like Columbus that relies on smash-mouth hockey to intimidate and frustrate their more skilled opponents.
Saturday night Pittsburgh decided to punch back and, wonder of all wonders, it worked! The Penguins also launched 51 shots against a besieged Sergei Bobrovski who single-handedly kept the Blue Jackets in the game with 48 stops on 50 shots (51st shot was an empty net goal). The Penguins want to close this one out in hostile territory so that they can get a few extra days to rest up for the next series. Unless Fleury screws the pooch, look for a quiet celebration on the ice after the final buzzer sounds.
Free NHL Pick: Pittsburgh Penguins -135 at WilliamHill.com
Avalanche vs. Wild
We've got a similar scenario in this game as we do in the Pittsburgh/Columbus game. The "better" team has found a plan to combat the feisty underdog and are headed into hostile territory to hopefully close out the series and avoid a Game 7. The Avs defeated the Wild on Saturday night by a score of 4-3 and for the first time in 10 combined regular season and playoff games, Colorado outshot the Wild (35-32). Sounds incredible that the Avs have been unable to manage this, but it's true, and they will have to keep that pressure on tonight if they are to prevail.
I believe that they will manage the pressure as they have the added luxury of a Vezina Trophy finalist in Semyon Varlamov tending the twine, as opposed to the rookie Darcy Kuemper who has stopped 78 of 83 shots in 3 ½ games of work since being summoned for Ilya Bryzgalov. The Avalanche have momentum and their second line is now clicking while center iceman Matt Duchene and his 70 regular season points may finally make his playoff debut.
Free NHL Pick: Colorado +105 at WilliamHill.com