NHL Playoff Betting Preview – Conference Semis

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The wreckage the lower seeds did in the East changed the entire playoff picture. Most believed Pittsburgh would have a challenging time repeating as Eastern Conference champions for a third straight year, but with the top three seeds now on vacation the Penguins are unquestionably the team to beat. Pittsburgh is a -160 favorite to rule the East, with their dubious opponent Montreal at +500. Three weeks ago it would be hilarious to believe Boston (+350) or Philadelphia (+450) would have an inkling of opportunity to be in the Eastern finals, yet one of them will. Let's take a look at the two East series' with prices courtesy of Sportsbook.com.

(4)Pittsburgh vs (8) Montreal

If goalie Jaroslav Halak can continue to play like he did against Washington and Montreal could upset Pittsburgh, a hot goal-tender might forever me known as having the "Halak Effect".  Montreal became the first team to knock off a No.1 seed in the first round since the NHL playoffs went to present format in 1994 and though dominated frequently in puck possession and shots, they played well enough and made sure the Capitals felt the mental pressure and let Halak do the rest.

An understated aspect of what the Canadiens accomplished was they were quicker to the puck and willing to block shots with the body and clogged passing lanes to mess up Washington's timing. Though the Caps had a ton of shots, quality was certainly lacking.

Pittsburgh has the benefit of watching more tape on Montreal and has the confidence of being in The Finals the last two years, which will make them tougher to rattle. This is where the Habs have to continue to forecheck expertly and Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec have to score. Montreal will begin the series extremely confident and is 18-10 in road games after two or more Under's.

Sidney Crosby continues to be dumbfounding and he leads by example, which is why Pittsburgh is unflappable. Lose first game at home to Ottawa, win the next three. Lose Game 5 to clinch series and trail in next contest on the road 3-0, score four straight goals and wrap up series, nothing to it.

With Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Stall, Pittsburgh has a relentless attack that offers no quarter for opposition. The trio had 25 points in six games (10 goals and 15 assists) and each is a creative operator, which leaves Montreal with situations they cannot prepare for. A rested Penguins squad is all but unbeatable with 13-0 record playing five or fewer games in two week window. 

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will let in the occasional soft goal, but is sturdy when needed most and savvy veteran Sergei Gonchar is dependable blue-liner along with other lesser known teammates on this star-studded squad. They will try to take advantage of the Canadiens frailties in the second round that shows 3-16 record.

Pittsburgh will attempt to crack the Halak code and grab leads to unsettle Montreal. The Penguins do play looser than necessary and Montreal will have to take advantage of each opportunity and try and bottle up the Pitt power play similar to what they did to Washington. The Canadiens will battle valiantly, but come up short like they did in losing three of four this season.

Pick- Pittsburgh (-450) in six over Montreal (+325)

(6) Boston vs (7) Philadelphia

The Bruins secured a playoff berth on the second to last day of the season and now have home ice advantage in the Eastern semi-finals vs. Philadelphia club that needed to win last regular season contest just to be invited to the postseason. Go figure, it must be the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This series is expected to be very physical and reminiscent of the 1970's when the Big Bad Bruins battled the Broad Street Bullies. 

Philadelphia had New Jersey's number all season and got into the Devils' heads and exploited even their smallest weakness. The Flyers will have fewer dependable scoring options without Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne, both out for the series because of foot injuries, which leaves youngsters Claude Giroux James van Riemsdyk and Ville Leino to pick up the scoring slack. The Flyers still have offensive firepower with Michael Richards (eight points) and Daniel Briere, both very sharp at present.

The strength of the Philly is the blue-liners with the always reliable Chris Pronger and Matt Carle matched together along with Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn, giving the Flyers the best group of defensemen still left in the East. Goalie Brian Boucher turned back the clock and has remarkable .940 save percentage and 1.59 GAA; however it is safe to assume if Philadelphia takes the six-plus penalties per contest they had against the Devils, there will be hell to pay after conceding only four goals. The Flyers enter round two on 7-2 run.

Boston doesn't have a lot of offensive weapons, which is why coach Claude Julien took his chances and turned the Bruins into physical, tough-minded defensive team, leaning on goaltending as the last line of defense. Though the Bruins didn't lead until the later stages of the games they won over Buffalo, they manhandled the Sabres and wore them down. Zdeno Chara was tougher than day old pork chop and has taught the cub Bruins how to take the body and clear the puck out of their zone when pressured.

Rookie netminder Tuukka Rask held up well in permitting 14 goals in his first six playoff games but will have to deal with the always annoying (if he's not on your team) Daniel Carcillo, who is known for creating mayhem.

Boston outscored Buffalo by one goal in their series and won the special teams battle 6-0 for the difference. The Bruins power play could be further enhanced with the return of their best center Marc Savard, who probably earns most of his playing time in man-advantage situations and rebuilds his strength taking intermittent shifts. Boston starts series with 38-16 mark having won three of four.

Miroslav Satan had a reputation as soft player, which is how Boston was able to sign him at midseason with all their injuries; however he had two game-winning goals and three assists in last series. David Krejci has been one of the Bruins best players the last six weeks, yet he will need help against the bigger Flyers and Marco Sturm has to do more than just take his shift, he has to produce points.

For fans that love hitting, this series is a true delight. These teams divided four games, with Boston taking the last two. Home ice means zilch when these two collide, with the visitor 14-5 in last 19 matchups. I'll use the slightest of leans with Philadelphia being more skilled offensively and as good defensively. Leave open to change my mind after seeing how goalies perform in series opener and take adjusted series odds if necessary.

Pick- Philadelphia (+110) in seven over Boston (-140)

NHL Playoff Betting Preview - Western Conference Semis

All four series favorites captured their first round conflicts in the West and moved on to the next round. This sets up a pair of excellent matchups and each is expected to be a long series. Sportsbook.com oddsmakers really have these teams bunched to emerge as finalist in the Stanley Cup. Off their still unsteady play, San Jose is no longer the favorite in the Western Conference, as they and Detroit are both +250 to play for Stanley Cup. Chicago is the new choice at +200 with Vancouver all not the far behind at +300. Let's look at what figure to be two excellent series'.

(1)  San Jose vs (5) Detroit

San Jose might be the series favorite, but that is only because they would have four home games if the series went the limit.

These are two teams that know each other well, as coach Todd McLellan was on the Detroit staff until taking the San Jose job two years ago. McLellan installed the puck-possession style that has made the Red Wings so difficult to beat for more than decade.

If the Sharks really expect to make the West Finals, their top line cannot continue to be faulty like they have been for several years in the spring. Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton once again added almost nothing and linemate Danny Heatley was not or is not 100 percent. Joe Pavelski's line saved the Sharks from upset (22 points in series), however Detroit is world's better than Colorado, especially at playoff time.

Veteran netminder Evgeni Nabokov was beaten twice by his own teammates, yet still conceded just 1.76 goals allowed with .926 save percentage. San Jose needs fast start and is 31-14 playing against a team with a winning record this season.

The NHL didn't do the Red Wings any favors, having them start this next series less than 48 hours after finishing off Phoenix in Game 7. Thou Detroit had a couple of off games on home ice, they out-scored the Coyotes 17-6 winning the last three contests in the desert and they will have psychological edge over San Jose, based on performance after the regular season concludes.

While clichés are frowned upon into today's world, they still work. Detroit's best players have knack for playing their best when needed (something San Jose's don't), with Henrik Zetterberg's 11 points being the finest example.

Netminder Jimmy Howard had plenty of uncomfortable moments against Phoenix, but when he made snap glove save on the first shot from the Coyotes in Game 7, it was apparent he was locked in. San Jose has a great deal more talented snipers that can bury the puck in the net and Howard will need Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and other defensemen to keep the pressure off him. Since the Olympic break, the Wings are 20-8.

Detroit took three of four during the regular season and has won six of last eight at HP Pavilion in San Jose dating back to playoffs on May 2, 2007. This is where pedigree counts and the Red Wings have it.

Pick- Detroit (-105) in six over San Jose (-125)

(3)Vancouver vs (2) Chicago

A pair of Western Conference division champions will clash in this round. This is a rematch from one season ago and both teams believe anything less than visit to the Cup finals would be a major disappointment.

Thus far the two teams have been a mirror image of one another. Each started the playoffs sluggishly losing two of three and went on to win the last three contests and bring momentum into this round.

Vancouver can live up to their dreams as long as the Sedin brothers stay at their best. Just a few seasons ago Daniel and Henrik were considers postseason pushovers, no more, as they scored five goals and added 13 assists between them. They were involved in every meaningful goal against Los Angeles and will have to continue to dominate if they want to extract revenge on Chicago.

Roberto Loungo has a Gold Medal in 2010 to help him forget when he was open door, allowing the Blackhawks to score seven times in single contest last May. Loungo had a similar flashback in Game 3 against the Kings, as they lit the lamp five times; however he appears to have regained his composure and wants prove he's the better goalie in this series. Vancouver starts round two 20-6 after two or more Over's.

Chicago fate in this series might not rest with the Canucks; it might be right in the mirror. Too often the obviously more talent Blackhawks were unwilling to do the dirty work against Nashville and dug a hole for themselves. This could happen more easily with larger repercussions as Vancouver is upgrade ability-wise. When it counted, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa came thru and they will be counted on again for Chicago to press on.

Rookie Antti Niemi was solid between the pipes with 2.15 GAA, which included keeping the Preds out of the net twice in the series. He'll need the help of defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to keep the Sedin's busy away from the goal. The Hawks are 40-18 when they register three goals.

These teams split four battles, each winning once on the road. The first two games went Under and the last two went Over the total. Vancouver's greatest weakness is the blue line. They couldn't harness good Kings power play unit (seventh in the regular season), permitting 10 goals. Though Chicago's man advantage crew isn't as strong as L.A.'s, this could become deciding factor in tight series.

Pick- Chicago (-145) in seven over Vancouver (+115)

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