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The two teams with the most points in the NHL in the 2017-18 regular season, Winnipeg and Nashville, open up their best-of-seven series at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Friday night at 8 p.m. ET. Let’s preview the series between the league’s finest and take a look at what the NHL odds board says about it.
NHL Playoffs Miss the Mark
Before we begin, I have to unload on the NHL overlords. What is this nonsense where winning a lousy division gives you a better seat at the table than another team that racked up more wins, fewer losses and more points? Have you seen the NBA ratings lately, Mr. Gary Bettman? Do you think that hoops Commissioner Adam Silver has a pretty good handle on things (namely, supporting the legalization of sports betting, but I digress) and has cultivated increased viewership under his watch? Well, if you answered yes to that last question then you might also know that division standings have been rendered virtually impotent in professional basketball and it’s now all about conference seedings.
That kind of foresight prevents a scenario like the one before us where the two best teams in the conference — in the league in fact, but we can’t do away with conferences — will meet in the second round instead of potentially colliding in the conference championship. Commissioner Bettman, your entire playoff schematic is somewhat confusing and fails to reward those who deserve to be rewarded, like the Winnipeg Jets, for instance. Instead of playing the Golden Knights, a remarkable Cinderella story by the way, the Jets get Nashville because they had the misfortune of sharing a playpen with the only freakin’ team in the league to register more points. And speaking of that, Nashville gets even more screwed than Winnipeg. It should be the Predators facing off against the weakest team left standing in the West, which happens to be the San Jose Sharks. Don’t be a puck head Bettman, follow the NBA’s blueprint and fix this!
Predators on the Prowl
Nashville outscored Winnipeg 22-20 over the course of their five meetings this season and won three of those five divisional matches. As any good Tennessean knows, the Preds ended the regular season with the best record in the league, besting their nearest competition, which just happens to be their opponents in this second round, the Winnipeg Jets by three points. Although Nashville won three of their five meetings this season, it was indeed the Jets who emerged with a 5-4 victory in their last meeting held just over a month ago.
Let’s look at a few critical stats:
Scoring – 3.3/game (2nd)
Goals Against – 2.6/game (5th)
Power Play – 23.4% (5th)
Penalty Killing- 81.8% (9th)
Scoring – 3.2/game (7th)
Goals Against – 2.5/game (2nd)
Power Play – 21.2% (12th)
Penalty Killing- 81.9% (6th)
After reviewing those stats and then checking out the series prices at the Sportsbook Review’s best online sportsbooks, it’s not surprising that the Predators are only slightly favored to win the series at -140/+120, which may have more to do with their home-ice advantage than any discernible edge in talent. But what the Predators do have is experience. Let’s not forget that this was a team that was the eighth seed last year and catapulted into the Stanley Cup Finals after defeating the Ducks to win the West.
As for netminders, two of the very best will be tending the twine. Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck enters the series off consecutive shutouts in Game 4 and 5 against the Minnesota Wild. Hellebuyck registered a 1.93 GAA, a 0.924 save percentage and a 4-1 record in his five starts in that first-round series. Hellebuyck was outstanding in the regular season as well, collecting 44 wins, which tied Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy for the league lead and also set a record for most wins in a regular season by an American-born goalie.
Meanwhile, the Predators have their own steel curtain in veteran Pekka Rinne, a Vezina candidate who posted a somewhat middling 2.60 GAA, a .909 save percentage and a 4-2 record in the first-round series against Colorado. However, Rinne’s regular season performance was the best of all goalies with 50 starts or more, carrying a 2.31 goals against average and a .927 save percentage into the postseason.
The Predators’ penalty killing unit enjoyed enormous success against the Avalanche, extinguishing 90 percent of their 20 short-handed situations in that series. But they now face a much more daunting foe with a more talented power play unit in Winnipeg. Nashville was the most penalized team during the regular season and needs to exhibit restraint and discipline if the Preds are to advance to the conference finals. Ultimately, it is Nashville’s series to lose as they edged the Jets during the regular season and are a deeper team from top to bottom with recent postseason experience under their belts.
My advice is to bet the Preds in the series but before you do, make sure you get on over to Sportsbook Review and check out their rating guide which gives you the lowdown on the best books in the biz as well as those on the dreaded blacklist, graded from A+ all the way down to F. Once you find a book, or two, or three that you’re comfortable with, make sure to go shopping for the sharpest line before you plunk your money down. Not all sportsbooks are created equal so find the one that’s right for you!
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