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NHL Playoff Preview

   by Ben Burns - 04/10/2008

I'm coming off an excellent regular season and the NHL playoffs are tyically a profitable time of year for me. I had another strong postseason last year, going 22-14-4, including 6-1-1 my last eight. Below, I've offered some notes from each of the opening round matchups. Note that just because I have predicted a team will win its opening round series, doesn't mean that I won't play against that same team at some point within the series.
Boston Bruins at Montreal Canadiens
Series Price: Montreal -340, Boston +260
The Canadiens finished first in the Eastern Conference with 104 points. They were strong both at home and on the road and closed out the regular season by winning seven of their eight games. The Canadiens 3.2 goals per game was tied (with Ottawa) for the best mark in the league while rookie goalie Carey Price has been playing with the poise of a veteran. Note that captain Saku Koivu is injured and won't be available for the start of the series.
The Bruins snuck in the playoffs with 94 points. They've over-achieved, despite dealing with numerous injuries throughout the season. Forward Patrice Bergeron, who missed most of the season with a concussion, has been cleared for the playoffs. He's one of the Bruins' top offensive players and should provide a boost. Marc Savard, who has missed the last seven games of the regular season but could also return.
Head to Head History
The Canadiens should be happy to draw the Bruins, as they have dominated this "Original 6" rivalry, for some time now. Indeed, the Canadiens are 11-0 the last 11 series meetings, including a perfect 8-0 this season. Looking back further and we find that the Canadiens are 17-3 the last 20 meetings. The 'over' was 11-8-1 in those games, including 6-2 this season. This will be the 31st time that the rivals have faced each other in the playoffs. The Canadiens won 23 of those 30 meetings.
Burns' Bottom Line
The Canadiens have won more Stanley Cups than any other franchise and they're hungry for another. The Bruins, on the other hand, have already enjoyed a successful season, regardless of what happens here. The Bruins might steal a game or two and should put up a tougher fight than most are expecting. However, in the end, the Canadiens should continue their series domination.
Prediction: Montreal in 6
Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins
Series Price: Pittsburgh -260, Ottawa +220
Last season, the Penguins were a young and somewhat underachieving team with loads of potential. They faced these same Senators in the first round and were quickly ousted in five games. They took a huge step this season though, finishing second overall in the East. If superstar Sidney Crosby hadn't been hurt, they likely would have finished number one. The Pens have more than Crosby though, including Evgeni Malkin, who finished with 106 points. They closed the season by winning 10 of 13 games.
The Senators, who advanced all the way to the Finals last season, are back in the playoffs for the 11th straight time. While they were in first place for more days than any other Eastern Conference team, they stumbled down the stretch, backing their way into the postseason and finishing with the seventh seed. General manager Bryan Murray fired coach John Paddock in late February, putting himself in charge, but the move didn't do much good. The Sens lost six of their last eight and are dealing with several key injuries, including captain Daniel Alfredsson.
Head to Head History
As mentioned, the Sens won last year's playoff series. They also won three of this season's four regular season meetings, three of which finished above the number.
Burns' Bottom Line
If the Senators were healthy, I'd give them a real shot here. However, without Alfredsson in the lineup, asking them to suddenly turn things around is likely asking too much. Look for the explosive Penguins to take "the next step."
Prediction: Pittsburgh in 6
Philadelphia Flyers at Washington Capitals
Series Price: Washington -145, Philadelphia +120
The Capitals enter the playoffs as one of the league's hottest teams. In fact, Washington won its last seven in a row (and 11 of 12) to move from ninth all the way up to third. Alexander Ovechkin was the best player in the NHL this year, becoming just the sixth player in 37 years to lead the league in goals (65) and points (112) in the same season. He's a threat to score every time he's on the ice and his game should be well suited for the playoffs.
Like the Capitals, the Flyers finished the regular season on a major run, winning seven of their last nine games. Also, like the Capitals, they weren't in the playoffs last season. Note that star center Daniel Briere, the team's second leading scorer, is banged up with a knee injury. He will play in this series but he may not be at 100 percent.
Head to Head History
The teams split four meetings this season with the visiting team winning all four games. Three of the games were decided by a single goal and the other was decided by just two. The first game produced five combined goals, slipping below the over/under line of 5.5. The next three meetings all finished above the total, however, with combined scores of seven, 10 and seven.
Burns' Bottom Line
This should be an extremely close series and could go either way. While the Flyers are arguably the better overall team, Ovechkin's the best player in the series, if not the league. Look for him to have a huge series, carrying his team to the next round.
Prediction: Capitals in 7
New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils
Series Price: New York -130, New Jersey +110
These rivals faced each other eight times this season with the Rangers winning seven of those games. The games were all close though, as every game was close and four of them went to extra time. Additionally, the Devils won the eighth and final of those meetings, which was critical as it gave them home ice for the series. Note that the 'under' was 5-2-1, which is why you'll be seeing 'totals' of just 4.5 in this series.
Burns' Bottom Line
On paper, the Rangers have arguably more talent. They've also got a solid goalie in Henrik Lunqvist. However, the Devils are backed by Martin Brodeur, one of the best goalies of the modern era. Brodeur has a habit of elevating his game come playoff time and I won't be surprised if he outplays Lundqvist and helps the Devils score the 'upset.'
Prediction: New Jersey in 7
Nashville Predators at Detroit Red Wings
Series Price: Detroit -580, Nashville +450
The Red Wings are coming off a great regular season, finishing with the most points (115) in the league. They've had plenty of strong regular seasons in the past though and have a tendency to "choke" come playoff time. That being said, they've got a significant talent advantage in this matchup. The Predators aren't slouches though. Despite losing a lot of firepower last offseason, they fought hard and clawed their way into the eighth and final spot.
Head to Head History
The division rivals faced each other eight times this season with the Wings winning six of those games. The 'under' was a profitable 5-3, including 3-1 in the four games played at Detroit.
Burns' Bottom Line:
The Wings are the better team here and past playoff failures should ensure that they're fully focused.
Prediction: Detroit in 5
Calgary Flames at San Jose Sharks
Series Price: San Jose -300, Calgary +240
The Sharks closed out the regular season on a 14-2-2 run, finishing comfortably in second in the conference and with the second best record in the league. While they were solid at home, they had the league's best overall record on the road.
Calgary is a highly capable team, one which is only a couple of years removed from making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Flames still hae the key components from that team, in captain Jarome Iginla and goalie Kiprusoff.
Head to Head History
The Flames took three of four meetings this season, including both at San Jose. The 'over' was 2-0-2.
Burns' Bottom Line:
As I mentioned, I feel that the Flames are a highly capable team. If they were facing another opponent, I'd probably like them to advance. However, they've been inconsistent on the season, while the Sharks tend to "bring it" every night. The Sharks are a legit threat to win the Stanley Cup and should get it done here.
Prediction: San Jose in 5
Colorado Avalanche at Minnesota Wild
Series Price: Minnesota -110, Colorado -110
This is an interesting matchup. I like the Wild as a team and they treated me well this season. They finished with a better record than the Avs this season and won the Northwest division for the first time. The Avs had to deal with injuries to a lot of key players though and are better now than they were during the season. That's particularly true given that they added Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote and Ruslan Salei at the trade deadline.
Head to Head History
The wild won five of this season's eight meetings, including all four at Minnesota. The 'under' was 4-2-2.
Burns' Bottom Line
This should be an extremely close series. I have a lot of respect for Colorado's veteran stars. That being said, the Wild are very well coached and one of the best in the game at protecting a lead. Both teams are much better at home which gives the Wild a slight edge, should the series go to seven.
Prediction: Minnesota in 7
Dallas Stars at Anaheim Ducks
Series Price: Anaheim -220, Dallas +180
The Ducks are back and ready to defend their title. This is a fairly tough first round draw, for a team which finished with 102 points, as the Stars finished with 95 of their own. Still, the edge certainly lies with the champs. While Dallas goalie Marty Turco has had a less than memorable playoff career, Anaheim goalie JS Gigeure has the best winning percentage among active NHL goalies (.689), going 31-13 in his career, while leading his team to a Stanley Cup.
Head to Head History
The Stars took five of eight meetings this season. With Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne back in the fold, the Ducks took the most recent two, though. The 'under' was 3-3-2.
Burns' Bottom Line
The Ducks are built for the playoffs. Teams can beat them once or twice but their physical brand of hockey wears a team down by the end of the series. We saw it last season and we should see it again in this series.
Prediction: Anaheim in 6

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