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Let's get to the picks.
Montreal Canadiens (+170) @ Toronto Maple Leafs (-200) — Total: 5.5
This will ... probably not go well for the Habs.
Montreal goes into the Scotiabank Area to face the motivated buzzsaw known as the Toronto Maple Leafs. Just take a look at the tale of the tape: The Habs are average-to-below-average in most relevant stats, while the Leafs are top-10 in both offense and defense. We must also look towards Montreal's undisciplined play throughout the season; the Maple Leafs are the wrong team to take penalty minutes against.
The Habs also come into this game on a five-game losing streak (two L's handed to them by Toronto, by the way). Veteran goalie Carey Price was lost to a concussion a month ago, but he's expected to return to the ice for Thursday night's matchup after a conditioning stint in the AHL.
With that said, I don't think Toronto is afraid of Price — he has a 3.48 GAA vs. the Leafs this season. Look for Auston Matthews and the rest of Toronto's shooters to test Price's acumen early and often in this game. Price will have his moments — he's a historically great goalie — but the Leafs will prove to be far too much for him in his first game back, and on such a big, important stage.
One more thing in the Leafs' favor that probably isn't talked about enough: the quality play of goaltender Jack Campbell. Campbell had a 4-1 record, a .918 save percentage, and a 2.16 GAA vs. the Habs this season. He hasn't allowed more than three goals in a game since April 10. Considering that the Leafs have often been known more for offense than defense, having Campbell in net is just another weapon for a team already loaded with them.
I would rarely, if ever, advise anyone to bet on a -200 favorite — not in hockey. And that's why the puck line at +135 for the Leafs is the right play in this mismatched Game 1.
Pick: Toronto Maple Leafs -1.5
Vegas Golden Knights (-105) @ Minnesota Wild (-115) — Total: 5.5
Of all the series we've gotten during this first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, this matchup has been the hardest to pick. The Knights, on paper, seem like the perfect team, top five in both goals for and against, with the best penalty kill in the NHL.
The Wild are no slouches either, as shown by their 1-0 smothering of Vegas in Game 1. Vegas exacted revenge in Game 2, via a 3-1 victory. Those two games look like signs of what this series will be: a closely fought battle.
One trend that sticks out to me for this third game between the two teams is that their last three matchups have all gone under the total. So, do we think the trend continues with a fourth straight low-scoring game, or will variance finally hit? Minnesota went 16-12 to the over at home this season, and 5-1 in favor of the over their last six games at home.
I'll take the plus money with variance this time around.
Pick: OVER 5.5