There haven’t been too many long, drawn-out goaltender’s duels in the 3rd periods and OT frames throughout the opening round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
On Tuesday night, however, goals could come at a premium.
At least 1 out of 2 goalie match-ups is a doozy in the making. Toronto’s Frederick Andersen and Boston’s Tuukka Rask have traded favors during an emotional 6 games of a 3-3 series between fierce forever-rivals. Each netminder has had a bad outing – Andersen when he allowed 5 goals on 30 shots in Game 4, Rask in Game 1 as the Leafs stunned the Bruins 4-1 at TD Garden. Yet a cautious (5.5) Over/Under total illustrates how much stock Las Vegas handicappers put in the skills of both veterans.
Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-André Fleury has suffered his ups and downs in 2018-19 as well. “Flower” badly outplayed San Jose Sharks GK Martin Jones through most of 4 games as VGK took a 3-1 series lead over the California club in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
But the Sharks rebounded with 2 straight wins, and Game 6 at T-Mobile Arena on Sunday night might have been a preview of the sort of tense, physical, low-scoring pond shinny that often characterizes the “rubber match” of a 7th and deciding game.
NHL Playoff Preview: Bettors Taking the Underdogs on Tuesday
Boston and San Jose each opened as moneyline favorites to win at home and advance to the next round.
Is there a quality underdog pick between Toronto and Vegas? Gamblers seem to like both teams to prevail.
The Maple Leafs’ line at Bovada Sportsbook has shrunk to (+115) since opening while the action on Vegas is so popular in Sin City that many sportsbooks are offering (-110) and (-110) and calling it a market.
Here are my thoughts and predictions on each final showdown.
Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins
Legend has it that once upon a time, a Toronto Maple Leaf superstar traded away for budgetary reasons while the Boston Bruins hosted another opponent at Boston Garden. When the news reached team headquarters, the scoreboard keeper was quickly dispatched to relay a message to the crowd:
Maple Leafs Star Traded For Nobody. Don’t Cheer, Just Boo.
Original Six rivalries aren’t like anything else in sports. There is no separate division for the Bruins, Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers, no trophy that goes out for the best record among the clubs that founded the National Hockey League. Yet nobody ever forgets a rivalry when it is passed from generation to generation. The ancient battles and bragging rights are sown into the fabric of modern NHL hockey.
The 2018-19 seasons of the Bruins and Maple Leafs seem woven into the fabric of each other. 2019’s series is a rematch of a 7-game war in 2018 that Boston won thanks to an amazing flurry of 4 goals in the 3rd period.
22-year-old fireplug Jake DeBrusk scored 2 goals including the winner that night, but he hasn’t been able to solve Andersen consistently in the playoffs this year. Other snipers are having more luck indeed. Little Brad Marchand has terrorized Toronto, notching 4 goals, 9 points and +3 through 6 games. The Bruins are not overpowering the Maple Leafs with size, but beating them to the puck with speed and quickness in the attack zone.
Don’t worry about Boston getting worn down, however. 2-ton defenseman Zdeno Chára is still patrolling the blue line for coach Bruce Cassidy after playing in the league since electricity was invented.
Toronto has a beefy blue line of its own, and the Leafs have beaten Boston twice on the road during the series. Auston Matthews has looked like like a 21st-century version of Eric Lindros, solving Rask a total of 5 times in 18 periods.
I’m liking the Under (5.5) in a match-up that could head into the 3rd period 0-0 or 1-1 given that a do-or-die scenario usually brings the best out of quality defense corps. Sure, the goalies might be nervous, but shooters will be too, and by the 3rd period, skaters who scrape the puck 20 feet forward along the boards and throw a couple of body-checks will be patted on the back by coaches upon returning to the bench.
Hard to imagine Andersen or Rask laying another Game 7 egg on Tuesday night after what happened in 2018.
Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose Sharks
The Western Conference meeting may be simpler to handicap on the moneyline. The Sharks are strong up the middle, and the club has suffered from unlucky draws in the playoffs lately. Jones has taken criticism as fans look for a scapegoat. Like Tom Barrasso once put it, “it’s always the same in hockey, if you lose, the goalie sucks.”
Whatever is happening in the Sharks’ net isn’t the story, though. It’s who is between the posts for Las Vegas.
Gamblers are not skeptical that a fledgling NHL franchise can win in the postseason. The Golden Knights proved that by going to the Stanley Cup Finals last year. Center William Karlsson is one of the best finds of any scouting system in the last decade, and recently-acquired forward Max Pacioretty has emerged as an elite playmaker. The VGK blue line is swift, physical, skillful, and mean.
There’s something else keeping the “+” signs next to Golden Knight skaters’ stat lines from turning into “-“ signs on betting boards. Fleury’s continued presence in goal has drawn its share of complaints. Bloggers were skeptical that the club made the proper move by signing Flower to a rich long-term deal despite the goaltender turning 34 years old. The consensus among cynics is that the GK got “hot” last spring and was fools’ gold as a long-term solution.
His shaky start in the ’19 playoffs only made the whispers louder. But you don’t doubt a great player when he appears to be rounding into form. Fleury is capable of stopping so many quality chances in a row that you wonder how anyone ever got one past him.
Jones crafted a masterpiece in Game 6 with almost 60 saves in the emotional double-OT battle, which San Jose won on a shorthanded goal by the fine Czech forward Tomáš Hertl. I’m not feeling his chances to stare-down a phenom for the 2nd game in a row and emerge on top. The Sharks are electric, but the Golden Knights know how to protect a fortress.
It’s okay to wager on Vegas in Vegas. Especially on Tuesday night.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.