While I was off the mark with my most recent pick in which I took the Tampa Bay Lighting to win Game 4 over the New York Rangers, you certainly cannot be disappointed with the playoff hockey we were treated to over the weekend. The Rangers were able to win Game 4 in Tampa Bay and had an opportunity to take control of the series last night on home ice, however the Lighting rebounded nicely with a 2-0 shutout victory over New York, putting the defending Eastern Conference champions on the brink of elimination. In the West, the Blackhawks once again stole a victory from the Ducks as Antoine Vermette played the role of hero in double overtime which sends that series back to Anaheim for Game 5 with the series deadlocked at 2-2. Both of Chicago’s wins in this series have come in overtime and they were able to rebound from a crazy Ducks rally (three goals in 37 seconds) to score the tying goal late in the third and of course eventually ending up with the win. This series shifts back to the Honda Center for tonight’s Game 5 so let’s take a closer look at the most important game of the season for both of these teams.
Chicago Blackhawks @ Anaheim Ducks
My Pick – DUCKS (-140)
This series is becoming extremely hard to predict. On some nights, the two teams are trading goals back and forth and on others it’s a battle to find the back of the net. The teams have split the first four games and Anaheim has the opportunity to use the home ice advantage they were able to capture in the regular season tonight to put the Blackhawks on the brink of elimination. While home ice is always supposed to be an advantage no matter what point in the season you are at, teams fight all year long for home ice specifically for games like this. The Ducks are 6-1 on home ice in the postseason and that one loss came to these Chicago Blackhawks in triple overtime in Game 2. Needless to say, they are extremely tough to beat at the Honda Center and that is playing a huge role in my pick for this game. They are averaging 3.62 goals per game in the postseason, only 2.15 against per game, have a powerplay that is clicking at 26.2% (best mark among remaining playoff teams) and a penalty kill that has been rock solid at 85.4% (also the best mark among remaining playoff teams). Chicago is putting up very solid offensive numbers but they have shown an inability to consistently keep this Ducks teams off of the scoreboard. They are giving up 2.86 goals against per game in the playoffs which is the worst mark among the four remaining teams and they have a penalty kill that is sitting at a lowly 76.2%, again the worst mark among remaining teams. While they scored five goals in Saturday’s Game 4, Chicago managed just three even-strength goals in the first 14 periods of this series which is a huge credit to Frederick Andersen and the Ducks overall defensive system. I believe the Ducks are the deeper, more complete team at this stage of the season than the Hawks are and they have not lost a regulation game in these playoffs. Take Anaheim with confidence tonight on home ice to put the Blackhawks on the brink heading back to Chicago for Game 6 on Wednesday night.