Welcome to the final weekly installment of my “NHL Games To Watch” betting column for Point Spread Weekly in these last few days of the regular season as playoff races come down to the wire in both conferences.
Winnipeg at Colorado
This is a critical Central Division clash between two teams with lots to play for down the stretch. Winnipeg is battling St. Louis and Nashville trying to fend off both the Blues and Predators for the Central Division crown. Colorado is trying to punch its playoff ticket as it hangs on to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and currently lead Arizona by 2 points. Colorado has been playing real good hockey going 6-1-1 in its last 8 games and has done it with timely goals and hot goaltending largely from Philipp Grubauer, who is playing just as strongly as he did last season when he was terrific in net late in the regular season for the Washington Capitals. Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog have fueled Colorado’s offense in spite of losing linemate Mikko Rantanen to injury. Winnipeg has been struggling of late, but finally snapped a 3-game losing streak with an OT win on the road against Chicago. The Jets recently got Dustin Byfuglien one of their best defensemen back from injury and are still looking to improve their overall game heading into the playoffs. Tough game to bet from a side perspective, but I’ll give a lean toward the Under in this game if Philipp Grubauer is in net for the Avalanche despite the fact the majority of the recent head-to-head matchups have gone Over the total.
Toronto at Montreal The Original Six rivalry matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens could take on a whole new meaning and level of importance on Saturday night. There is a distinct possibility this could wind up being a ‘win and you’re in, lose and you’re out” contest for the Canadiens, who are currently in a battle with Carolina and Columbus for the two remaining wildcard playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Toronto will likely be locked into 3rd in the Atlantic Division by the time this game rolls around, but the Leafs may relish the chance to play spoiler potentially to one of their rivals. Montreal has been up and down in recent games, particularly offensively as the Canadiens have scored 3, 2, 6 and 1 in their last four games. That’s an indication of how inconsistent their offense has been, but one thing that hasn’t been is goalie Carey Price. Price has surrendered 2 goals or fewer in 8 of his last 10 starts. Toronto has been working at improving its defensive game, which has been its biggest concern as the Leafs prepare for a first-round playoff series starting next week against the Boston Bruins. The Leafs’ blue line has recently been bolstered by the return from injury of underrated defenseman Travis Dermott and also the promotion of Calle Rosen from the AHL. Rosen is now healthy and showed in his first game with the Leafs against the NY Islanders earlier this week that he is very capable of being a solid and steady defenseman at the NHL level. I would expect Montreal to be favored at home here, given the circumstance that this game will mean a lot more potentially to the Canadiens, but we must keep in mind that “must win” doesn’t always equal “will win.” Something to consider before placing your wager on this game.