Handicapping marquee NHL games


Montreal Canadiens at Calgary Flames (Friday, Saturday and Monday)


After two games in Edmonton, the Canadiens will travel a few hours south to Calgary and finish their season series against the Flames. The Canadiens have gone 2-4 against the Flames, and though they have two games in hand, only six points separate the teams in the standings — and that’s exactly what’s up for grabs in this three-game set. This might be as close as Calgary gets to the playoffs. The Flames will have only eight games left after this, and with their playoff chances on life support, they’ll have to run the table against the Canadiens or the door will likely slam shut on their season. The odds are definitely stacked against the Flames even though they’ve played well against Montreal.


This will all take place over four days. Both goaltenders, Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom and Montreal’s Carey Price, have failed to live up to expectations, but the latter has been shelved with a concussion, so we won’t see him. We’ll likely see Jake Allen start two of the three games, and that actually increases the Canadiens' chances of winning. There’s a good chance the Flames will have to turn to backup Louis Domingue during this stretch. If that’s the case, the Flames’ chances will drop. 


The wild card is Cayden Primeau, whom the Canadiens have recalled from the AHL on an emergency basis. Primeau is a prospect with a ton of potential, and bettors shouldn’t be surprised if he steps in and steals the show. However, he’s still an unknown. By my estimation, the Canadiens will win about 55.5% of the time, which translates to odds of -125, assuming Primeau and Markstrom start for their respective clubs. But Montreal should carry a price tag of about -145 if Domingue is in the Flames’ crease. If Allen faces off against Markstrom, the Canadiens’ chances of winning are about 58%, or -138. If Domingue is across the ice from Allen, Montreal will win the game about 62% of the time, which translates to odds of -163.


Boston Bruins at Pittsburgh Penguins (Sunday and Tuesday)


Regardless of the outcome of the Bruins’ three-game set in Buffalo against the Sabres, the results of their two matchups in Pittsburgh will go a long way in determining where these teams fall in the playoff picture. It seems likely that the Bruins will catch the Penguins and finish ahead of them in the standings. Depending on how things play out, they could also match up in the playoffs.


The Bruins have really picked it up, and this team is a prime example of just how quickly things can change and why betting on hockey often feels like trying to catch a falling knife. One minute a team is hot garbage, the next it’s running amok over every team in its way. We’ve always known the Bruins were an elite team, and it was our job to wait for them to come around while hopefully making a few bucks along the way.


It’s fairly clear now that the Penguins are the worst of the four playoff teams in the East. Sure, they’ve been missing Evgeni Malkin for a month, but this team was never on the right track and has stayed in the race only because the goaltending has been overperforming expectations in an unsustainable manner. The Rangers would likely be in the playoffs in place of the Penguins if not for their own run of misfortune.


Boston and Pittsburgh split two meetings this month. The Bruins ought to be priced at -140 Saturday, assuming Tuukka Rask gets the start against Tristan Jarry. Their odds of winning drop to -133 if Casey DeSmith gets the nod for the Penguins. I’m expecting Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk to be back for this mini-series, and if that’s the case, Boston will be in an even better position to succeed. Rookie Jeremy Swayman could get another shot in goal, but don’t be surprised to see Rask start both games. I’ll be looking to bet the Bruins at -125 or better Sunday, as I believe there’s value in doing so regardless of who plays goal for the Penguins.


Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks (Wednesday and Friday)


Unfortunately, I had a small position on the Blackhawks when they lost to the Predators 5-2 on Monday in Nashville. Kevin Lankinen was facing off against Juuse Saros, and at + 130, I saw some value in backing Chicago. The Blackhawks didn’t win, but not a lot separates these teams besides Nashville All-Star defensemen Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, and the Blackhawks are still in the fight for a playoff spot with the Predators. Pekka Rinne will almost certainly get one of the next two starts, and when he does, I’ll bet the Blackhawks on the moneyline at + 110 or better, assuming Malcolm Subban isn’t in Chicago’s crease. Subban could start one of the next two games, and that should be cause for concern.


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