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Ottawa Senators (7th seed)
When I think of the Senators this season I think of goaltending. While neither starting netminder Craig Anderson nor his capable backup Robin Lehner will be amongst the league leaders in wins they rank first and second respectively in save percentage considering all goaltenders with more than four starts this season.
The defensive ranks were bolstered recently when Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson returned in the final week of the season from a partially torn Achilles. Karlsson will most assuredly breathe new life into this gritty group under the watchful eye of head coach Paul MacLean. Karlsson sparked a 4-2 victory over the Bruins on the final day of play in the NHL this past Sunday when he accounted for two assists and a plus two rating. For those who backed the Senators in their NHL picks, they were rewarded As Ottawa was a +180 underdog in the NHL odds.
Though the Senators offense lacks the punch of many of the postseason participants, ranking 27th in goals scored and a woeful 20th on the power play, they more than atone for their offensive sins with a rock solid 2.1 goals allowed per game (2nd) and are tops in the league with an 88 percent kill rate when down a man.
The Senators stumbled at the beginning of April, dropping four consecutive games before finishing the season with a 6-3 record down the stretch. Twenty-three-year-old center Kyle Turris has led Ottawa’s pedestrian offensive attack with 12 goals and 29 points.
Montreal Canadiens (#2 Seed)
The Canadiens are a solid team. They don’t do anything that will make you sit up and take notice but they are resilient and did win their final two games of the season to wrest the Northeast division title away from the Boston Bruins.
While goaltending may be the fulcrum for the Senators, it has been a source of anxiety down the stretch for the Habs. Carey Price allowed an average of 4.6 goals per game combined with a 1-5 record until he and the team bounced back to record consecutive victories over Winnipeg and Toronto to cap the season. Price ended the year with a 2.59 GAA and a .901 save percentage which will not be good enough if the Canadiens are to advance.
If Montreal was high on your list of NHL picks, you could have done worse than backing them this season and watch them return +4.4 units back to your wallet when it was all said and done. Left winger Max Pacioretty and Norris Trophy consideration P.K. Subban have led the Montreal attack and will be the keys to victory if Montreal pounces and takes a commanding lead in the series.
This is not the typical slam dunk that one migh expect from a second seed over a seventh seed. No, these teams are evenly matched as evidenced by their split in the season series this season. They have not tangled since Montreal won a 4-3 shootout on March 13th at the Bell Centre.
However, this series should in fact favor the Senators. I like the underdog in this one because of their rock solid defense and the spectacular goaltending tandem of Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner. Playoff hockey is often exemplified by tight checking and cautious play. That plays perfectly into Ottawa’s hands. Carey Price has stumbled repeatedly this season and I don’t see Montreal being so offensively prolific as to run away with this one.
The NHL odds may suggest that Montreal has the upper hand, as well as the home ice advantage, but we like what we see from the Senators.
Ottawa wins the series 4-2 at Bet365.
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