It is very tough to find a more disappointing way to begin our NHL Playoff picks than with what transpired last night between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators. The Predators sat pretty after a dominating first period in which they tallied three goals on Corey Crawford and had 100% of the momentum heading in to the middle frame. After Crawford got the yank and was subsequently replaced by Scott Darling, the Blackhawks began their comeback and scored three second period goals to knot the game at three’s entering the third period. The third period and the first overtime period would go scoreless and Chicago capped the comeback on Duncan Keith’s slapshot from the blueline in the second overtime period that had eyes and found twine behind Pekka Rinne. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to this game and we also couldn’t have asked for a worse finish, the latter of which is all that matters at the end of the day. It seems I was wrong even when I was right on this one, so without further hesitation I am going to put it behind me and focus on the second night of the NHL playoffs.
Pittsburgh Penguins @ New York Rangers
My Pick – PENGUINS (+158)
Metropolitan division rivals collide at Madison Square Garden tonight to open up what should be a great series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. After a strong and somewhat surprising run to last year’s Stanley Cup finals the Rangers have even higher hopes and thus higher expectations entering this year’s postseason. For the Penguins it is likely an odd feeling entering their 8th straight playoffs as they didn’t clinch a playoff spot until the last game of the regular season and thus finished in the second wildcard spot and drew the number one ranked Rangers in the first round. While Pittsburgh stumbled fairly heavily in the season’s final couple months and are the clear-cut underdog entering this series, I would be extremely careful not to completely write them off, even if it is against the East-leading Rangers because last time I checked the Penguins still had some pretty good players in their lineup with plenty of playoff experience under their belts. While Pittsburgh is unlikely to have Kris Letang in their lineup for some time due to a concussion, it’s not as if the Rangers enter this series completely healthy on the back end either. Kevin Klein remains out of the lineup due to a healing broken arm while Marc Staal, who missed the final two regular season games with an injury will return tonight but clearly not at 100%. For his part, Rangers forward Rick Nash also missed the final two regular season games and also missed Wednesday’s practice with a bout of the flu. He is going to play tonight but not likely at 100% either. One area that usually comes up big in the playoffs (i.e. last night’s game between the Senators and Canadiens) is special teams, and that advantage is Pittsburgh all the way. The Penguins powerplay of 19.3% in the regular season was 10th best in the league while the Rangers slid all the way to 21st with a 16.8% clip. While both teams produced solid penalty killing throughout the season the Penguins still ranked ahead of the Rangers at 3rd and 6th respectively. Pittsburgh has always boasted good powerplay numbers but what differentiates this team from past playoff-bound Penguins team is the play of their goaltender. Marc-Andre Fleury has had his fair share of playoff ups and downs but he is the only goaltender in this series with a Stanley Cup and he also had a league-high ten shutouts this season. Another key area to look at is the relative weakness of the Rangers on home ice. Yes their 25-11-5 record on home ice is good but it isn’t a whole lot different than Pittsburgh’s 20-13-8 record on the road and is actually worse than their road record of 28-11-2. Given the Rangers are a better road team than they are at home and Pittsburgh plays just about as well on the road as they do at home, I see plenty of value in this pick and certainly wouldn’t want the Rangers in the -170 to -180 range. Take the Penguins tonight to upset the Rangers and steal home ice advantage away from the Broadway blueshirts.