By: Willie Cornblatt
Here we are, knee deep in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, already with a decade’s worth of opportunities to make jokes about #bucciovertimechallenge. As glorious as it has been, tonight marks an irrationally awesome pinnacle of the first round. There are three Game 7’s slated for the night, including a Rangers-Flyers matchup in New York, inexplicably, the night after a dominant performance from Philly on their home (hence the word irrational). Essentially, the madness and rabid desperation of just one Game 7 is multiplied by three and jammed into one night, with no other explanation other than divine intervention (that means scheduling overlords). And with great games comes great responsibility, and that responsibility means gambling farrrrr beyond your means, preferably with your home/car on the line. But seriously folks, here are the picks for tonight’s hockey games, with the lines courtesy of Bovada.
Philadelphia Flyers +135 Vs. New York Rangers -155 (7:05, NBCSN)– As mentioned above, it’s insane that this game is being played the night after the two teams played in Philadelphia, and I can only imagine the nap Mats Zuccarello is going to get in tomorrow. But with their playoff lives on the line, it’s hard to imagine either team struggling for motivation or adrenaline. This is a monster game in the Rangers’ trajectory as a franchise, with the last three seasons ending with disappointment in the playoffs. And with the pressure completely resting on their broad, tense shoulders, New York sits in a tough position.
Last night’s 5-2 Flyers win was as lopsided as the score indicated, and it might seem like the stars are aligned for a flop from the Rangers tonight and another season flushed away. New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist has a .910 save percentage through six games, which is the sixth best among goaltenders in the postseason. Meanwhile, the Flyers’ much-maligned Steve Mason has a .939 save percentage after missing the first three games due to injury. Momentum seems to be going aggressively with the Flyers, which is the precise reason taking the Rangers has so much value.
At -155, I’m going with New York. They are simply a better team than the Flyers, despite looking shaky through six, and before this series, a game 7 line would be closer to -180. I see the Garden faithful exploding and an early goal putting the Flyers deep in to a corner. I’m not sure how any gambler can put their hard-earned/lazily-acquired money on Steve Mason on the road, especially only at +135. Stick with New York tonight, mostly because of the solid value you’re getting after the Flyers have hooked the public. And if you want to get crazy, take -1.5, which sits at +185, and I see hitting after some late goals.
Pick- New York Rangers -155
Minnesota Wild +120 at Colorado Avalanche -140 (9:35, CNBC) – This has been an incredible series. The home team has won every game, two of the six games went to OT, and only two have been separated by more than one goal. On one side is the upstart Avalanche, with fiery former superstar Patrick Roy leading the unit to surprising success in his first year as head coach. The other side is the Wild, who underachieved in the regular season, doing pretty much the opposite of what the young Avalanche did.
But these teams have been evenly matched throughout the series and tonight should be no different. So, in front of their home crowd, in a season that’s been nothing but magical for them, with a superior goalie, Colorado is the favorite. Lucky for us that means Minnesota rests as a sneaky underdog, and we’ll take the dog every time in a series this highly contested.
The start will be a big one in this game, and Minnesota has scored first in four of the six games this series. If they get on Colorado’s goalie Semyon Varlamov early, take the air out of their crowd, and prey on the young Avalanche lineup, they are gravy. Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper has a 1.53 GAA after taking over for Ilya Bryzgalov in Game 2, and the edge in the goalie matchup was really the significant advantage the Avalanche had going into the series. And in this Game 7, I see Kuemper matching Varlamov, neutralizing Colorado’s leg-up in net.
Pick- Minnesota Wild +120
Los Angeles Kings +115 at San Jose Sharks -135 (10:00, NBCSN)
Sometimes, you just have to go with it. No matter how strongly you fight momentum, it’s impossible to battle gravity forever. It’s like sticking around at the party everyone’s leaving, desperately looking to convince yourself you’re still having fun. And that’s how I see tonight’s final, and, in my opinion, the most interesting game going down. The Sharks got out to an incredible 3-0 start and looked not just like a Cup contender, but a Cup favorite. And then it happened. The Kings won Game 4 and you could just sense things changing. I kept trying to say that the Sharks would find a way to close it out somehow, but one could feel the pressure building on them and the Kings gaining confidence. And now we’re here, in a Game 7, after the Kings have won three straight games, each by three goals.
The Sharks will start Antti Niemi in net after sitting in game 6. Niemi now has a cringe-worthy .882 save percentage this postseason, but it was the right move to go with their starter. The crowd will be crazy for this California rivalry, but with Kings’ Goalie finding his stride after allowing 16 goals in three losses, the air can be deflated from San Jose with an early Los Angeles’ goal. The value isn’t what it should be with the Kings, but as a gambler, you have to go with the team you think wins, period. If the Kings were -115, you would still have to ride with them, simply because they are the better team right now.
This would be a mind-boggling collapse from the Sharks, and a historic victory for the Kings. They would be the fourth team in history to win a game 7 after losing the first three games. As I said, fighting momentum too much is futile, and nobody, I mean nobody, wants to be the last guy at the party drinking warm beer and watching “Shark Tank” with the host.
Pick- Los Angeles Kings +115
Those are my picks for tonight, guaranteed to dash your dreams and have you working at Build-a-Bear by the end of the weekend. Enjoy, my noble, degenerate brethren, and may the luck of a thousand pit bosses be with you.
Follow me on Twitter @WillieCornblatt