The Detroit Red Wings, on the strength of two third period tallies, took care of their own business and earned two huge points last night against the Carolina Hurricanes. Unfortunately for us, I had the Red Wings to win the game by 2+ goals and it’s disappointing we didn’t hit this one. I certainly didn’t think it would take a third period comeback to knock off one of the worst teams in the entire NHL, especially given the fact that it was a home game with their playoff hopes on the line. This time of the year the teams that have been eliminated from postseason contention, or the “spoilers”, have absolutely nothing to lose and even have some extra motivation that can be based on making an impression on management or trying to earn a long-term contract. Those factors do come in to play at this time of the year which is why I personally find it more difficult handicapping games in the last week or two of the regular season, in any sport. Tonight there are just three games on the NHL schedule and only one that has real playoff implications, and that would be the game between the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals as the Bruins continue to try to fend off the surging Ottawa Senators for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. While this game will draw most of the viewer’s attention tonight, my pick for this evening will focus elsewhere.
Toronto Maple Leafs @ Columbus Blue Jackets
My Pick – OVER 5.5 (-110)
While this game certainly does not contain playoff implications, it does render some importance for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs are jockeying with the Carolina Hurricanes for fourth-last place in the draft lottery standings and despite having a decent shot at the number one overall pick, the Leafs have actually picked their game up as of late. Toronto has won three of their last five games and took both the Ottawa Senators and the Boston Bruins to shootouts over the weekend. Columbus meanwhile has easily been playing their best hockey of the season as they just had their nine-game winning streak snapped against the New York Rangers as they allowed a tying goal with just 30 seconds left in regulation. Derek Stepan then officially ended their winning streak in the extra frame. The red-hot Columbus offense will take their crack at James Reimer and a Leafs team that has been nothing short of horrendous on the road this season. Toronto has recorded just eight victories away from the Air Canada Centre this season and has only one road victory since the calendar flipped to 2015. That makes Toronto 8-26-6 on the road overall this season and 1-20-3 on the road in 2015. To make matters worse for the Leafs tonight (and better for this pick) is the fact James Reimer is 0-11-1 with a 3.49 goals against average over his last 13 starts on the road. Reimer has played very well lately but this Blue Jackets team is sneaky good on offense. Ryan Johansen has 11 points over his last 10 games while three Jackets players have tallied five goas over that span and Brandon Dubinsky has seven points over those five contests. While the Leafs offense has tapered off as the season has gone along, they still have managed nine goals over their two games against the Blue Jackets this season and their top trio of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, and James van Riemsdyk tallied a total of ten points over those two games with Kessel accounting for five of them with two goals and three helpers. Both teams rank in the bottom half of the league with their penalty kills while the Blue Jackets are 6th in the league with an impressive 21.4% clip on the powerplay. Furthermore, the Maple Leafs rank 26th in terms of goals against, surrendering 3.11 goals per game while Columbus is just one spot better at 25th with 3.06 goals against per game. Toronto has been just terrible defensively all season on the road while the Blue Jackets have won four in a row at home and can score with the best of them. Take the OVER 5.5 tonight and enjoy a back-and-forth affair between two clubs with nothing to lose.