Swinging Johnson - NHL Record (7-6, +4.4 units)
*Games assigned 1 to 5 units.
It seems like a long time ago that I predicted the Dallas Stars would be victorious over the visiting Vancouver Canucks but it was actually April 18th, which come to think of it was a long time ago. I am happy to report that our last regular season selection proved to be a big 4 unit winner as the Stars handled Vancouver with ease en route to a 5-1 victory as +125 underdogs. We now enter the playoffs +4.4 units to the good, and intend to ramp up our assault as we look for the best value in our NHL picks.
If you’d like to take a peek at all four of my Eastern Conference series predictions, they are all linked up here in our conference preview.
Toronto Maple Leafs
After a nine-year playoff drought the Toronto faithful will be rewarded as they take on one of the most talented teams in the Eastern Conference. Certainly the Leafs have their work cut out for them tonight after having dropped 11 of their last 13 games at the Garden. The good news is that Toronto will be getting hard-working center Tyler Bozak back from an upper body injury to face off in Game 1 tonight.
Phil Kessel is clearly the straw that stirs the drink for the Leafs but his track record against his former team has been less than stellar. In 22 games since Kessel was shipped out of Boston in a trade with Toronto that landed the B’s 1st round draft choices Tyler Seguin and burgeoning young defenseman Dougie Hamilton, he has netted only three goals and six helpers. It is clear that Bruins colossal defenseman Zdeno Chara has intimidated Kessel in the past from roaming in front of the net where he has made a living. If the Maple Leafs are to have any success tonight they will need their young netminder James Reimer to come up big and Kessel to spark the offense.
Though the Bruins won’t state this publically, their 4-2 loss to the Senators on the final night of the season probably helped them - in the first round at least. They toppled from a potential number two seed to the fourth seed, setting up this series with Toronto. They have dominated the Leafs recently and that is largely due to an imposing physical presence on the blueline and a bruising brand of forechecking hockey.
Perhaps the greatest concern for the Boston fans is the team’s lack of intensity which is exactly what will propel Toronto to victory not only in this game but in the series. Milan Lucic has been the poster boy for Boston’s recent skid. He has been unable to regain the magic that made him one of the most feared players in hockey, both for his fisticuffs and ability to score.
While the Bruins are stingy on defense with Tuukka Rask between the pipes and a big, bruising corps of defensemen led by the captain Zdeno Chara, their lack of offense has led to an alarming tailspin down the stretch. The Bruins have averaged only two goals per game over their last 18 contests and if that trend continues then Boston must be prepared to put a blockade in front of their crease.
At first blush Nathan Horton’s presence back in the lineup tonight after missing the final five games of the season with an upper body injury may not appear to be significant, particularly when you review his last five games before getting injured (or playing with the injury as some have speculated). Horton had neither any goals nor assists and registered a -4 in the plus/minus category during that span. However, Horton is a bona fide playmaker in the league and his contributions could be immediate, especially when you consider he has had over 10 days to heal and rest. Factor in that the Bruins played a grueling schedule down the stretch with games canceled due to the Boston Marathon bombings and consequently crowbarred into alternate dates. If we’re looking for value in the NHL odds then you could much worse than backing the big favorite tonight in Boston.NHL Picks: Play Boston -175 for 5 units at Bet365