The game last night between the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins was about as close as a hockey game can be played as it was yet another one-goal affair with the Rangers applying a stranglehold to the Penguins playoff lives with a 2-1 overtime victory. It was actually the Penguins who were able to get on the board first which was contrary to the series’ first three games but a late second period goal from New York knotted the game at one’s entering the third period. A scoreless third was followed by Kevin Hayes’ overtime winner just over three minutes in to the extra frame and it sent the Penguins faithful home with their heads down and the Rangers personnel home with an eye on a series-clinching victory Friday night at Madison Square Garden. I had the Penguins last night to win on home ice and while the pick didn’t result in a win I won’t feel too bad about this one as the game was as evenly played as I was hoping for. The shots were 24-23 in favor of the Rangers, with the 24th shot ending the game and putting the Penguins on the brink of elimination. Elsewhere in the postseason there was one series that ended last night as the Anaheim Ducks swept away the Winnipeg Jets and will draw the winner of the Canucks/Flames series in the second round. I will move on to tonight’s action that features four games including two series that can also come to an end and I will be focusing my pick on one of those series for this evening.
Calgary Flames @ Vancouver Canucks
My Pick – FLAMES (+130)
Hockey fans all over the place are still kicking themselves over their pre-season prediction regarding the Calgary Flames as a young, inexperience and overmatched Flames team that was supposed to finish near the basement of the NHL is one game away from moving on to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Flames surprised everyone all season long with their play as they refused to give in to the underdog role and have in fact thrived in that role thanks to some impressive seasons from unexpected sources. Johnny Gaudreau is a very strong candidate to win the Rookie of the Year while players like Jiri Hudler, Sean Monahan, Kris Russell, T.J. Brodie and Dennis Wideman have all had career years and don’t forget Mark Giordano as he was in the Norris Trophy conversation until a biceps tear ended his season. Without their Captain and best defenseman the Flames did not miss a beat and here they are on the brink of knocking off a Canadian rival in the Vancouver Canucks. For some reason Vancouver looked completely disinterested in Calgary on Tuesday night and the Flames took full advantage and have all sorts of momentum heading in to Rogers Arena to hopefully put the finishing touches on the series. The Flames have been able to dominate special teams throughout this series as their 36.5% efficiency with the man advantage is the best mark in the postseason so far and is more than double that of Vancouver’s 16.7% clip on the powerplay. Calgary has received strong goaltending from Jonas Hiller after it was anyone’s guess who would take the candle for Calgary in goal for these playoffs. Hiller allowed just a single goal in Calgary’s 3-1 Game 4 victory and boasts a goals against average of just 1.79 and a save percentage that sits at .938. This is in sharp contrast to the quality of goaltending the Canucks have received as Eddie Lack was chased after three goals on seven shots in the first period of Tuesday night’s game and will be replaced by the ailing Ryan Miller for tonight’s contest. Miller is self-admittedly not 100% healthy right now and the veteran surrendered five goals against the Edmonton Oilers in his only other start since returning from a sprained knee suffered in February. I think we all know that a lot of the time the playoffs can come down to who has the best goaltending going and in this series it is not even close. Many times we have seen a hot goalie carry a team through the playoffs and Jonas Hiller has been more than stellar in goal for the Flames while the Canucks goaltending has been shaky over the last couple of games. I will take the hot goaltender and the team carrying all of the momentum tonight to win the game and the series at a very attractive price.