A pivotal Game 6 is on tap tonight, as the once-Stanley-Cup favorite Colorado Avalanche try to survive against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Let's get to it.
Back when the Colorado Avalanche were polishing off the St. Louis Blues and hammering the Vegas Golden Knights, 7-1, in Game 1 of this series, I wrote that the Avs were skating straight towards the Stanley Cup Final.
Three straight losses later, and Colorado is now fighting for its playoff life.
Shockingly, the once-favored Avalanche have seen their Stanley Cup odds plummet to +425, good for third behind the reigning champion Tampa Bay Lightning (+175) and Colorado's opponent in this series, the aforementioned Golden Knights (+200).
(Hey, if you still believe in the Avs, now's the time to get in on those odds.)
That fall speaks to how thoroughly the Knights have exposed the weakness of the Avalanche — who seemed like they had no weaknesses whatsoever a while back — in the last three games. They've also made Game 1 look like an unlikely outlier, as opposed to Colorado simply outplaying them.
Vegas' forecheck has been a nightmare for the Avalanche, as it's basically said, "Oh you want to attack? Fine, watch what happens."
The best way I can describe this turn of events is the Avalanche's buzzsaw meeting the Knights' adamantium-coated wall. It also helps that Vegas' forecheck is aided by Hall-of-Fame goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who's been at the top of his game this series.
Game 5 showcased just how good the Knights have been. The Avalanche had an excellent chance to right the ship, playing at home where they've been simply unbeatable. After scoring two early goals, it looked like Colorado had adjusted to Vegas' relentless defense and were headed towards a shutout victory and a 3-2 series lead.
Then, a little over a minute in, Vegas scored. Three minutes later, it scored again. The game went to overtime, where the Knights put the Avs away.
Colorado should have won Game 5, but the Knights made it pay for their careless turnovers, and Fleury played on his head to force overtime. A deflating loss for a Colorado team that now looks to have been overvalued this series.
There's been an unsettling narrative — for Avs fans and backers, at least — in these Stanley Cup playoffs. Aside from the Wild-Golden Knights series, there's yet to be a Game 7 in any series. Usually, the team that's won Game 5 has gone on to win the series. Combine that with the fact that Vegas has outplayed Colorado by most, if not all, advanced metrics in most of the games this series, and things are looking bad for the Avalanche to win tonight. They also have to play in Vegas, where the Knights went 25-6-3 in the regular season and 3-1 against the spread in their last five games at home.
I know I just spent a couple of words painting a negative picture of the Avalanche's chances in Game 6, but enough burying the lede: I'm taking them to win, and bring Vegas to yet another Game 7, tonight.
Yes, I can acknowledge this is probably ill-advised — most of my hockey bets are, if I'm being honest. But one of my favorite things about hockey is how much value there is on the underdog, maybe even more than any other major sport. How often have the Colorado Avalanche been underdogs in 2020-21? It's rare for a team as loaded and talented as Colorado to offer plus money — especially in this situation, where it'll have to leave everything on the ice in order to keep its Cup aspirations alive.
Wild sh** happens in the playoffs, so we can't let regular-season stats influence us too much, but we can't just eliminate Colorado's capability in this spot.
-135 seems like the right line for the Vegas Golden Knights. They deserve to be favored in this spot, as they've been the better team, for the most part, in this series and will play at home with a 3-2 lead. In fact, Colorado has been favored in EVERY GAME THIS SERIES, which is kind of wild. I won't argue with anyone who takes the Knights tonight.
But my pick is less about them and more about the value of +110 for an Avs team that, at any moment, can explode for 5 or 6 goals. If not for some ill-timed mistakes late in Game 5, this series could easily be 3-2, Avalanche. They've now been exposed to Vegas' adjustments in three straight games. I'm banking on Colorado making adjustments of their own. (Oh yeah, and variance. I love variance. Bring on Game 7!)
I also like the OVER 5.5 in Game 6. Unlike the money line, I'm not a huge fan that the total is plus money (*screams* IT'S A TRAP), but I think Colorado learned a hard lesson in Game 5: Two goals is not enough to beat the Knights. And we also saw just how quickly and ferociously Vegas can shift gears and strike, as they scored two equalizing goals in less than four minutes. Coincidentally, the Avs are 3-1 to the OVER their last five games away from Ball Arena; Vegas is 3-1 to the OVER their last five games at home.
I think we're in for an action-packed game. Get the popcorn ready.
Pick(s): Colorado Avalanche ML (+110); OVER 5.5 (+105)