A Stanley Cup Playoff two-game slate is on tap for Thursday night, with both the Nashville Predators and Montreal Canadiens on the brink of elimination.
Let's get to the picks.
Montreal Canadiens (+200) @ Toronto Maple Leafs (-250) — Total: 5.5
Full disclosure: If this was, say, the middle of the regular season, I'd take the Canadiens at +200 without hesitation. -250 chalk for one team — one HOCKEY team — is just too much, especially considering the luck factor and how the average margin of victory in hockey is so tight.
But this is the playoffs, and in these playoffs ... well ... Toronto has been far and away the better team.
Outside of Game 1, where it seemed like Montreal caught Toronto off guard, the Leafs have just been outplaying the Habs up and down the ice in every aspect of the game, save hits. But for all the physical play Montreal has been able to deliver, they have yet to score more than two goals this series nor have they been able to get Toronto into much penalty trouble either.
Basically, if you can't score against Toronto, you won't beat Toronto.
Again, I want SO BADLY to take the Canadiens here, take all that plus-money, and hope they can make this a 3-2 series, but I wouldn't believe it.
The Habs now have to go into Scotiabank Arena and try to pull themselves from the edge after barely showing any signs of life the last three games. On the other side, the Leafs are flying high and have the chance to end this series at home.
I'm taking the better team; give me the Maple Leafs on the puck line. I also like the UNDER play here, with the Habs unable to deliver consistently strong offense and the Leafs playing mistake-free hockey.
Pick(s): Toronto Maple Leafs -1.5 (+105), UNDER (-130)
Carolina Hurricanes (-140) @ Nashville Predators (+115) — Total: 5.5
Obviously, the Predators don't want to lose, but man, they REALLY don't want to lose.
Aside from maybe the Wild-Golden Knights series, this has probably been the most competitive series in these playoffs thus far.
The Predators have just been crushing expectations game in and game out, scoring the first goal in the last three games.
Of course, they've also ended up fumbling leads in all three games, and that speaks to the narrative of this series. The Hurricanes have been outplaying the Predators 5x5 in most, if not, all metrics. Their problem has been sloppy play at the worst times — and the Predators have been capitalizing on that sloppy play.
So, the Hurricanes have been the superior team, but they've also been beating themselves at the worst time. The Predators have been taking advantage of puck luck and mistakes to make this series 3-2 as it heads into Nashville.
Something's gotta give here.
Another interesting narrative in this series is the home/road splits for each team. The Hurricanes have won every game in Carolina. The Predators have won every game in Nashville. The Predators have yet to win at the PNC Arena this season. Carolina hasn't won on the road since April 27 at Dallas.
Again — something's gotta give.
I'm a huge fan of variance when it comes to betting (yes, I'm that person betting an OVER simply because the 6-7 games that came before it went UNDER), but trying to maximize on all the trends and narratives surrounding this game while also taking variance into account will send you spinning.
Carolina being -140 on the money line could easily be a trap, with oddsmakers trying to lure people in with the small chalk on a superior Hurricanes team, only to watch Nashville keep their home streak alive and send this series into Game 7.
OR ... that money line could be so low because everyone has forgotten just how good Carolina is, due to how competitive this series has been.
The Hurricanes won a tightly contested, third consecutive overtime game in Game 5. Nashville looked poised to break this losing streak at PNC Arena, only to watch Carolina steal it away. That's deflating. Now, Carolina can end this once and for all — and all they have to do is clean up their play a little?
That sounds good to me at -140.
I'll also put something small on the OVER here. Considering how tight this series is, how the last three games have gone to OT, and with both previous games in Nashville cashing the OVER, I think the Preds won't go quiet, pushing this game over the total. The fact that the OVER is plus money scares me, but a small wager is worth it.
Pick(s): Carolina Hurricanes ML (-140, OVER 5.5 (+110)