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NHL playoffs continue with co-favorites on tap

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

Stanley Cup co-favorites Washington and Chicago take the ice Thursday, hoping to keep pace with Wednesday’s winners. Plus more from the rink, the hardwood, the diamond…and even a grand jury.

Last three NHL first round openers begin Thursday 

Three final opening round playoff matchups to preview for you. Let’s get to it...

Toronto (45/1) at Washington (3/1) (7 p.m. ET on USA Network)

  • Series Price: Washington -400, Toronto 330
  • Game One Price: Washington -210, total of 5.5 (Under -130)
  • Offensive Ranking: Toronto #5, Washington #3
  • Defensive Ranking: Toronto #22, Washington #1
  • Pace Estimate: Tough call! Toronto is second fasted in the playoffs at 64.5 total combined shots per game, while Washington is fourth slowest in the playoffs at 58.2.

Washington is obviously supposed to CRUSH Toronto based on the series price and opening game line. You can see that defense is the main separation point in the stat dynamics. Washington allowed the fewest goals per game in the league, while Toronto was well below average. Toronto will hope to push Washington into an uncomfortably fast pace to steal any victories. Toronto can score if they can create opportunities based on that #5 regular season ranking in goals per game. 

Nashville (50/1) at Chicago (3/1) (8 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network)

  • Series Price: Chicago -200, Nashville 175
  • Game One Price: Chicago -170, total of 5.5 (Under -140)
  • Offensive Ranking: Nashville #11, Chicago #9
  • Defensive Ranking: Nashville #15, Chicago #11
  • Pace Estimate: Very fast, Chicago’s games had the third most shots this season of all the playoff teams, while Nashville had the fifth most. Those will likely feed each other into an entertaining spectacle. 

Chicago is the second biggest first-round favorite, and co-favorite with Washington to lift Lord Stanley’s trophy. It’s not clear in the pure per-game averages why the Blackhawks are seen as Washington’s equal. Surely postseason pedigree is playing a role in the pricing. It will likely take tougher playoff opponents in later rounds to poke any holes in those price perceptions (if there are holes to poke!). Tough to see Nashville’s pathway to a series upset in the numbers. They’re slightly worse on offense and defense, and already play at Chicago’s pace…making it tough to pull the favorite out of its comfort zone. 

Calgary (30/1) at Anaheim (8/1) (10:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network)

  • Series Price: Anaheim -170, Calgary 150
  • Game One Price: Anaheim -160, total of 5 (Over -125)
  • Offensive Ranking: Calgary #16, Anaheim #18
  • Defensive Ranking: Calgary #14, Anaheim #3
  • Pace Estimate: Very slow, with Calgary having the third fewest totals shots per game of all the playoff teams during the regular season, while Anaheim had the fifth fewest. 

Looks like a grinder of a series, which favors Anaheim because elite defenses can really clamp down in wrestling matches. Calgary’s stat composite is about as “average” as you can get in a 30-team league. Generic balance is often a negative in the postseason because there’s no reliable strength that can carry a team through crunch time. 

Defensive shockers in NHL openers: road teams go 4-1, under bettors go 4-0-1

A tense, thrilling, yet low-scoring opening night of the 2017 NHL playoffs. Here’s a quick review…

NY Rangers (plus 130) 2, Montreal 0

Total Shots: NY Rangers 31, Montreal 31

It can be hard to find stats that reflect one team’s dominance over another in a hockey game. Sometimes it really is just a matter of one side happening to slip through a minuscule opening more often than the other. But, it is worth nothing here that the Rangers won total shots 26-15 over the last two periods, despite sitting on a lead. Often a team that trails most of the game wins shots because the leader goes into a shell. New York withstood a first period flurry…then won total shots by double digits on the road with a lead the rest of the way. Strong. New York swipes home ice and is now the series favorite.

Pittsburgh (-160) 3, Columbus 1

Total Shots: Columbus 32, Pittsburgh 29

Another game where the winner was outshot in the first period, then dominated the flow of play the rest of the way. Columbus outshot Pittsburgh 16-3 in the first 20 scoreless minutes! It was 26-12 for the Penguins over the last 40 minutes against the discouraged visitor. Even though both of these teams had excellent stats this season, there was some informed skepticism form market influencers about the Blue Jackets because they lost six of their last seven regular season games. They’d better get things figured out quick or they will be in a 2-0 series hole.

Boston (-140) 2, Ottawa 1

Total Shots: Boston 25, Ottawa 27

Boston trailed 1-0 entering the third period, suffering the ignominy of a 12-0 loss in total shots in the second stanza. The series favorite rallied well in the third to take the opener. Boston was a -180 series favorite despite not having home ice. They do now, and are even a bigger favorite to advance to the second round. 

St. Louis (plus 160) 2, Minnesota (-180) 1(in overtime)

Total Shots: St. Louis 26, Minnesota 52

Here’s a good example of a game where the leader went into an extended shell. Minnesota trailed from 6:21 into the second period until 22.7 seconds left in regulation. Their frantic comeback effort helped the Wild lead total shots 44-21 at the end of regulation. Minnesota had more opportunities in the extra period too...but the Blues scored at 17:48 of OT to steal the victory.

San Jose (plus 135) 3, Edmonton 2 (in overtime)

Total Shots: San Jose 44, Edmonton 19

Edmonton crawled into a shell and could never get out! The Oilers jumped to a 2-0 lead after one period, which saw total shots tied at 10-10. From that point forward, San Jose won scoreboard 3-0 on an astounding shot advantage of 34-9. San Jose joins the list of road winners who swiped home ice advantage out of the gate. 

Of course the leader of the Knights will be Gallant!

Multiple media sources were reporting Wednesday evening that Gerard Gallant would be named as the new head coach of the Las Vegas Golden Knights expansion franchise in the NHL. The Golden Knights will begin play in the 2017-18 season after acquiring players in an expansion draft June 18-20. 

Gallant had a stellar 96-65-25 record in a little more than two seasons with the Florida Panthers. Given VSiN’s enthusiasm for the Golden Knights and hockey in general, you can be certain we’ll have coverage of this story throughout the broadcasting day Thursday. 

No drama for “must-win” teams on final night of NBA season

Oddsmakers added several points to the lines of games involving the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls because those teams had to win Wednesday to make the playoffs. They covered anyway.

Indiana (-14.5) beat Atlanta 104-86 behind 32 points and 11 rebounds by Paul George. That clinched the #7 seed in the East for the Pacers with a 42-40 record. Indiana will take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round. 

Chicago (-15) beat Brooklyn’s junior varsity (or possibly freshmen) team 112-73. Oddsmakers could have doubled that high spread and it still wouldn’t have been enough in the Bulls’ 39-point victory. That clinched the #8 seed in the East for Chicago with a 41-41 record. The Bulls will battle top seed Boston in the first round.

Miami also finished at 41-41 with a “too little too late” 110-102 win over Washington. That was also too little to cover the inflated market price of -11. Miami was on the wrong end of the tie-breaker, and will have to miss the playoffs despite an electric run through the second half of the regular season. 

We’ll provide series preview capsules for all eight playoff matchups in our “week-ender” Friday. The NBA postseason begins this weekend with quadruple-headers Saturday and Sunday. 

Red Alert! The “New Red Machine” still on fire in MLB

Yesterday we talked about the great start to the 2017 baseball season for the Cincinnati Reds. Then they went out and crushed the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-2 as underdogs of plus 140 on the moneyline! That brings the young Redlegs to 7-2 for the season, a record that includes underdog cashes of plus 125, plus 165, plus 155, plus 165 again, and now plus 140.

The Reds have won their last four games by a combined 30-5 score, with all four coming on the road against divisional rivals who were supposed to be much better than Cincinnati this season.

Dare we look up the first meeting between the Reds and the NL favorite Chicago Cubs? Time to cool off between now and a weekend series that begins Friday April 21 at Wrigley Field.

Also Wednesday in MLB…

The San Diego Padres won again as a big underdog. They shut out the Colorado Rockies 6-0 at a price of 145. That puts the Padres at 5-5 for the season. As we mentioned the other day, that’s profitable territory for a habitual dog. San Diego has cashed at prices of 200, 180, 160, and 145 already in this short season. In the final segment of “My Guys in the Desert” Wednesday, Jimmy Vaccaro talked to Ron Flatter about the tendency for public bettors to underestimate the danger of fading ugly baseball underdogs. 

The Toronto Blue Jays lost again, falling 2-0 at home to Milwaukee. Michael Lambourne warned about market overpricing of the Jays on “A Numbers Game” Tuesday and Wednesday in his daily handicapping chats with host Gill Alexander. Toronto falls to 1-7 on the season, with failures as favorites of -155 and -235 in two home losses to the Brewers. Their scoring totals this season by game are 2-1-5-8-2-2-3-0…meaning two runs or less in five of their eight outings. 

Controversial sports bettor “Vegas Dave” Oancea indicted

Late Wednesday afternoon, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that controversial sports bettor “Vegas Dave” Oancea had been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he used social security numbers that weren’t his own when placing large bets at the Wynn and Westgate sports books. 

You can read the entire article here. 

And, you can watch clips from the episode of “Millionaire Matchmaker” on Bravo from 2014 that featured social media magnet Oancea here, and here

That wraps up our Thursday report. Back with you tomorrow with preview capsules for all eight NBA first round matchups. If you have any requests for future topics, drop us an email.

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Follow us on Twitter: @VSiNLive.

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