Its been a wild, wacky and somewhat thuggish start to the NHL playoffs. Cup favorites are already on the ropes. Home ice advantage has been usurped everywhere you look. I hope you didnt bet the Penguins to win it all. Or the Canucks. If you have been betting, hopefully you’ve been siding with the road sweaters. We’re less than a week into the great hockey postseason chase. Here are some initial thoughts as opening round matches head into the meat of those series.
ROAD TEAMS, UNDERDOGS SKATING AWAY WITH HUGE PROFITS
Five days into the Stanley Cup Tournament and underdogs and road teams are dominating, producing a windfall for those playing them. Through 19 games since the tournament began last Wednesday, the road team is 11-8. Had you put $100 on the odds of each road team during this run, you’d be up $696. The profit margin is larger had you been selecting underdogs on the blind. The underdog is 13-6 through last night games, turning a crisp $1140 profit had you been putting $100 down on each on. The upshot? All eight series have seen home ice flip, including the Detroit/Nashville series where its already flipped back to the Preds, owner of original home ice in the series. Seven games have already played into overtime and just about every series looks razor thin between the combatants skating. The marathon aspects of those series kick in this week, but you have to think we’ve got a handful of Game 7′s coming right at us. The question? Will the road teams and underdogs continue to score big for hockey bettors? Probably not. The Books have already adjusted. In the three games tonight, there isnt a team with serious underdog odds. In fact, all three are basically coin flips: Rangers, -120, at Ottawa, even; Bruins, -125 at Washington, +105; and St Louis, -110 at San Jose, -110. The Blues and Sharks late nighter is basically even on each side. Ottawa and Washington are slight home underdogs, which will force bettors to decide which dominating trend–the underdog or the road team–that they want to side with this evening. I say pass and just enjoy the hockey. But thats just me.
BRENDAN SHANAHAN’S CONFUSING WEEKEND
Do you get the feeling Brendan Shanahan is a little overwhelmed right now? The former all star, power winger is now in charge of meting out playoff disciplne out of the league’s offices. If you’ve been watching the hockey, then you know that he not only has his hands full, but his decisions have universally raised eyebrows. I guess in a way, I cant blame Shany. This has got to be stunning. I’ve been a religous watcher of the NHL playoffs my whole life and dont recall a chippier start to the festivities. Using the adjective chippy is an understatement. Fights have been breaking out and nobody is shying away from sending a message with their fists, sticks or lineups. The line of quality, physical play has been repeatedly crossed during the first round action so far. I am afraid of an international incident breaking out along the northern New York border as the Rangers/Senators series moves north tonight to the Canadien Capital. The key to this series has suddenly become physicality. Sens Coach Paul Maclean put out a grudge match lineup and turned Game 2 of the series into a literal barbaric slugfest. I think he would have suited Racki up if he could have. It worked as the Sens evened the series to bring home ice back to Canada, but the thuggery works both ways and one of the game’s casulaties was Senator sniper Daniel Alfredson, injured by the revenge-filled elbow of Carl Hagelin. But this has been going on in rinks throughout the playoffs. The Red Wings Todd Bertuzzi could run for Mayor of Detroit, or at least emergency financial manager, after fighting Predators cheap shot artist Shea Weber. Gloves were dropped and sweaters clutched at the end of the first and second periods in the San Jose-St Louis game Saturday night. Then there’s the bad blood in the Flyers/Penguins series, which began–at least the current day version of it–with a pair of physical matches in the final week of the regular season that easily carried over to this playoff series. It reached a pinnacle yesterday with not only Sidney Crosby getting in fights, but instigating them. In the league offices, Shanahan has suspended Hagelin for three games for his elbow to Alfredson. Ottawa’s Matt Carkner did get a game on the sidelines for his own ambush attack in the Rangers/Senators free-for-all Saturday night. But Weber was only levelled a weak fine for pile driving Henrik Zetterberg’s face into the boards and Pttsburgh’s Aaron Asham has yet to hear word on what will happen to him after cross checking somebody in the throat in a blatant, misguided attempt at revenge after a big hit. Maybe Shanahan feels getting swept out of the playoffs will be punishment enough for Asham. When the weekend began, Shanahan was taking heat for his soft approach on Weber. By the end of the weekend, we’re wondering if Shanahan’s inconsistent meting out of punishments wont completely drive the playoffs out of control. At this point, I’d be surprised if we get out of the first round without several other fight starting incidents. It’s entertaining, even if it drives some casual fans away.
RIP CONFERENCE AND CUP FAVORITES
Six series look like it could build up bad blood all the way through a seventh and deciding game. Two series, however, look to be ending early and sit at 3-0 leads with series sweeps on the line in the next game. The kicker there being its two of the favorites to take the Stanley Cup facing the 3-game holes. The Penguins were the betting chalkChalk is another name for the favorite team to win. at +350 to win the Cup, but their defense and goaltender have been dominated by the Flyers. After allowing eight goals for the second straight game, the end is almost near for the high flying Pens. We’re beyond gut check time for Pittsburgh, but the problem is this is a just bad matchup for the Pens. And its not helping their cause that Marc Andre Fleury has turned into a slow, confused sieve who gives us big rebounds like its his job. Pens Coach Dan Bylsma might have waited one period too long before replacing him in between the pipes. But this Flyer team is relentess, every bit as high octane as the Pens, but with some defensive acumen to go along with it. Claude Giroux is blossoming into an elite player and the line he centers with Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr might be the best in the game. Let that sink in, Jaramir Jagr might be on the best line in hockey. What is this, the mid-1990s? He’s been burning his former team so far in this series. The Pens depth at center was all the rage when the series began, but the Flyers have rendered both Evgeni Malkin’s and Jordan Staahl’s lines non existent. Everything is rolling for the Flyers, they’ve even baiting Sid the Kid Crosby to start fights after the whistles.The Flyers have the Pens playing goonball with Crosby, James Neal and Aaran Ashram all spinning the cheap shot roulette wheel. The Pens arent just losing a shot at the Cup in this series, but they’re losing respect from NHL observers in the process. Out West, the Vancouver Canucks were the betting favorites to win the conference. Unlike the Pens, they were also the top-seed in the conference. Three games later, they face the same 0-3 hole as the Pens. Heading into their series with the Kings, everyone knew that LA would have an edge in between the pipes. And thats pretty much played out and been the difference in this series. Vancouver’s Roberto Loungo was benched after a pair of 4-2 losses, but last night in Game 3 the Kings’ Jonathan Quick shut out the Canucks. It didnt matter that Vancouver replacement goalie Cory Schneider allowed just a single goal. It was one too many as the Kings took total control of this series. Vancouver really misses the offense of Daniel Sedin whose missed all of the series so far with a concussion, and their power play has been dying a slow death the whole second half of the season. That’s the fine line, really. When your best offensive gun is out and the other team has the better goalie, it doesnt matter what your seed is, you will be in trouble in the Stanley Cup Tournament. Besides, the Kings arent your typical #8 seed. They had control of the Pacific Division and #3 seed until losses in the final week of the regular season pushed them down in the standings. Its no surprise the Kings and Flyers have pushed the proverbial Cup favorites. It is a surprise that both have been pushed to the brink of elimination on the wrong end of series sweeps. The Pens and Canucks have fallen from Cup favorites to 25/1 and 30/1 longshots respectively. Taken over the role of chalkChalk is another name for the favorite team to win. are the likely Penguin vanquishers themselves, the Flyers. Phily now sits at 4/1 to win the Cup after beginning the tournament as 12/1. After them, its the Rangers, 5/1; Predators, 7/1; Kings, 7/1; and the defending champion Bruins, 8/1.
PREDS/WINGS WINNER, THE NEW WESTERN CHALKChalk is another name for the favorite team to win.?
Meanwhile, the best series of the bunch has been the Nashville/Detroit set. All three games have ended in 3-2 scores. The Preds took Game 1, the Wings took Game 2 and the Preds answered back with a Game 3 win. Yesterday’s game was the Pavel Dasyuk show. He might have been the best skater in any of the four playoff games yesterday and over the final period and a half, the Wings looked like the best team among the teams in action yesterday. And, they lost. Pekke Rinne stole the show. He might end up stealing this series. This guy has developed into one of the best goalies in the league and this spring might just be the coming out party for the Flying Fin. We’re going to chanel our inner Coach Freddie Jackson, master of hype, and draw comparisons to Dominek Hasek. But Rinne’s instincts and ability to get a little bit of every shot despite being sprawled on the ice in four different directions does harken back to the Dom’s prime. But the key with Rinne is he’s so tall and big that he just covers so much ground even when he’s pinned on it. He made 39 stops yesterday, half of which seemingly in the third period when the Wings, paced by Dastyuk, threw the proverbial kitchen sink at him. This kid is the real deal and its going to be tough for the Wings, or anybody, to beat him. With Vancoucer on the ropes and pretty much skating with a big fork in their back, I cant shake the feeling that the winner of this series becomes the new Western Conference favorite. And its the Preds, not the Cup savvy Wings, that have control heading into tomorrow night’s game in Detroit.
Enjoy the games tonight.