This series has been owned by the Penguins from start to finish. The teams squared off four times before the New Year and Pittsburgh skated away with victories by the scores of 4-2, 3-0, 2-1 and 5-3. However, since the New Year the Jackets have been on a roll. Columbus registered a 26-13-3 mark after January 1st and their intensity was evident when they played the Pens dead even for the first two periods in their last meeting on March 28th at Nationwide Arena. Unfortunately for Jackets fans and their backers the end result was the same and Pittsburgh triumphed once again as they edged Columbus 2-1.
What’s Changed – If Anything?
Perhaps the best way to get a read on this Game 1 matchup is to look back and analyze the last meeting between the teams on March 28th. This game was knotted at zero until the third period when Chris Kunitz notched his 34th goal of the season and a mere 47 seconds later Beau Bennett found an opening to the far side of backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney which ultimately proved to be the game winner. Columbus’s Matt Calvert converted a power play opportunity late in the game to cut the lead in half. However it was not enough as the Penguins skated out of Columbus with a victory in hand.
But what’s changed since that game? Evgeni Malkin is still nursing a foot injury so his participation in the early games of this series is unlikely. However, Pittsburgh’s defensive corps will get a huge boost as they will be playing with the services of stalwart defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin. Both players were absent for the March 28th contest.
On the flipside, Columbus will have one of the elite netminders in the game Sergei Bobrovsky manning the pipes in this one as he takes his 32 win season and 2.38 GAA into the postseason. They are also a physical team that finishes checks and can wreak havoc on a more finesse team like the Penguins. If Bobrovsky takes his momentum and stellar abilities into the series opener tonight, it could be a frustrating evening for the home team. Couple that with the historically lousy postseason performances by Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and there may just be an upset in the making.
Free NHL Pick
After perusing the NHL odds at Bet365.com I cannot help but want to dip my toe in the chilly waters of what the books are dealing on the underdog Columbus Blue Jackets. They are currently installed as +160 underdogs by the British bookmaker Bet365.com and if the Jackets can muster any offense to complement Ryan Johansen then all that juice could be coming back to Papa in the form of cold hard cash.
But the big caveat here is the offense or lack thereof by Columbus. The Penguins have their ace blueliners back in uniform and if goalie Marc-Andre Fleury can shake off the funk from postseasons past then he can be a true asset as he notched 39 wins and a 2.37 GAA though his save percentage was barely adequate at .915. The Pens will also enjoy home ice advantage in this one as well where they registered a 28-13 record and returned 5.1 units in NHL odds to their backers this season.
Columbus money appears to be moving this number as Pittsburgh opened up at about -225 in many offshore books but they currently sit at -180. If you want a value play for your hockey picks then the Blue Jackets may fit you just right in Game 1.
NHL Picks: Columbus +160 at Bet365.com