In most sports, each playoff round is supposed to be harder. This will not be the case for Pittsburgh, which is a decided series favorite against Ottawa in the Eastern Conference Finals after knocking off Columbus and Washington.
BookMaker has the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins as -310 series favorites, and my guess virtually every sportsbook with be rooting for Ottawa based on the number of series wagers that will be placed on Pittsburgh. To overcome these NHL odds, what will the Senators have to do and what must the Pens do to advance?
Ottawa Doing Everything Right
For those unfamiliar with Ottawa, you will hear the name Erik Karlsson a lot because the two-time Norris Trophy winner has been the best player in the postseason. He literally is all over the ice, and with his speed and smarts he can fly down into the offensive end and still get back on defense in time to help his goaltender. Right now, the game has really slowed down for him.
Senators goalie Craig Anderson has been above average; however, most of his big saves have come in the third period or beyond, which is where he deserves credit. Ottawa's defensive is designed to stall the opposing team in the neutral zone with a 1-3-1 trap and force it to dump the puck into the corners. The vast majority of the time this worked vs. the Bruins and Rangers, but Pittsburgh's speed will test the Sens.
For the Senators to compete, they will need the same kind of power play that scored six times in 12 tries against Pittsburgh in the regular season.
Pittsburgh Cannot Be Complacent
With what is at stake, it would seem the Penguins would understand the magnitude of their situation. Still, after huge series victories against the Blue Jackets and Capitals, Ottawa is not going to ignite Pittsburgh, even if the Senators won two of three this season. (Home team won each contest.)
It is a given Pittsburgh is going to score, as it averaged a league-best 3.4 goals a game in the regular season and the same number in this playoffs. Sidney Crosby remains the best player on the planet, yet the Penguins are far from a one-man show with Evgeni Malkin, rookie Jake Guentzel, Phil Kessel and big moment scorer Patric Hornqvist. If these players find open ice, watch out.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has arguably been Pittsburgh's most important player thus far and the only reason he has played is because regular starter Matt Murray was injured during warm-ups before the first game of the playoffs. Murray is now healthy, and Fleury stays between the pipes as long as he does his job.
Notes & Series Pick
Pittsburgh arrives with decisive edges in this series. It is almost impossible to slow down the Penguins, as they have a rink full of speed across their roster. Coach Mike Sullivan is one of the best tacticians in the game, and he has a full complement of players that understand winning this time of year. While I admire Ottawa's grit and never quit attitude, for NHL picks no way I'm betting against the Penguins.Bet On NHL Futures At SBR's Top Sportsbooks