If anyone is capable of stopping the Chicago Blackhawks, Tuukka Rask is the best bet. He stops almost everything that comes his way.
Rask is the definition of a hot goalie, shutting down the NHL’s highest-scoring team while leading the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in three years. But he’s still in the underdog role.
The Blackhawks are minus-150 favorites over the Bruins in a best-of-7 series that opens today in Chicago.
“I know the Blackhawks have home ice, but that doesn’t really mean much unless it’s Game 7,” LVH sports book director Jay Kornegay said. “I think it’s a very even series, and it’s going to be a long series. I think the price is a little inflated. The Bruins have a better goalie right now.”
Rask allowed two goals and stopped 134 shots as Boston swept four games from Sidney Crosby and the favored Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals. The next challenge for Rask is to fend off Patrick Kane, who carried Chicago past the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in the West finals.
Las Vegas handicapper Dana Lane (DanaLaneSports.com) predicted this Finals matchup before the lockout-shortened season opened in January, and he’s calling for the Bruins to hoist the Cup.
“Although evenly matched, the Bruins’ advantage will come from their ability to control the face-off circle. Boston has won over 56 percent of its draws in the regular season and playoffs, good for No. 1 in the league,” Lane said. “The Blackhawks won 50.8 percent in the regular season, but when they stepped up in competition for the playoffs, their wins fell to 47 percent.
“It’s unlikely Chicago will have success against the Bruins, who have quality face-off men on all four lines and will control tempo. The Blackhawks, not the Bruins, will be stepping up in class. Boston will win Game 1 and the series in seven.”
The Bruins are plus-135 in today’s game, and the total is 5 (under minus-150).
The teams did not meet during the regular season because every game was scheduled within the conferences after the lockout. In the previous two seasons, Boston won two games against Chicago by a combined score of 6-2.
“Many of the same faces remain,” Lane said. “In both games, the Bruins faced very little resistance entering the offensive zone, allowing them to create numerous scoring chances.”
Rask replaced Tim Thomas, the goalie when Boston won the Cup in 2011. Chicago won the Cup in 2010. The presence of high-profile teams in the Finals could potentially generate more betting action than normal.
Kornegay estimated hockey wagering accounts for less than 2 percent of the state’s yearly sports book handle. Football wagering, including NFL and college, accounts for about 50 percent.
“For hockey, this series is going to get some action,” Kornegay said. “But it still doesn’t compare to most other sports.”
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.