A day after the Chicago Cubs receive their World Series rings to commemorate their first world title in 108 years, the Blackhawks will embark Thursday on their quest to win their fourth Stanley Cup in eight years.
Handicapper Alex Smith (AxSmithSports.com) likes Chicago to defeat the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the Finals.
The Blackhawks are the 5-1 second choice to win the Stanley Cup behind the Washington Capitals, the 3-1 favorite. The Minnesota Wild are 7-1 and the Penguins 8-1.
“There’s no value in either price, but the Hawks look better to me than the team that won in 2015,” Smith said. “They have the easiest road. The Pacific Division looks better than the Central Division right now, and you get a good team that’s completely healthy and rested.
“The Penguins are so deep. Even though they’ve dealt with injuries, they still have tons of forwards that know how to score and two capable goalies and are talented enough to make it back with the pieces they have. Washington is stacked again, but we’ve seen them choke too often.”
For a sleeper pick to win it all, Smith likes the Oilers at 16-1 odds in their first playoff appearance in 11 years. Connor McDavid, the NHL’s leading scorer, leads Edmonton against the defending Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks in a quarterfinal series that starts Wednesday.
“Everyone’s trying to discredit them for being a very young team, but they won’t shy away from the big stage,” Smith said. “McDavid is obviously an incredible talent, and he seems fearless in some of these big spots as they’ve been playing important games lately.
“There’s more pressure on San Jose to win that series than Edmonton. The Sharks finally got to a Cup final, but now they’re getting older and some guys are hurt.”
While Smith likes Chicago to hoist the Cup, he’s fading the Blackhawks in Thursday’s series opener against the Nashville Predators, plus-150 underdogs in Game 1. Chicago is 3-11 in its past 14 playoff Game 1s.
“That’s pretty much one of the few automatic bets I’ve had since 2011,” Smith said. “At plus-150, that’s good value.”
Smith also is siding with the Senators (plus-110) as home ’dogs over the Bruins on Wednesday and is taking under 5 (minus-105) in the game. Ottawa beat Boston 2-1 on Thursday in a shootout victory on the road.
“Boston has gone under in 11 of its last 13 games, and Ottawa has gone under in nine of its last 11 at home,” Smith said. “We’re going to see a lot of close, low-scoring games in that series.”
The Senators have won six straight over the Bruins and 10 of 12.
“Ottawa has found a way to beat Boston,” Smith said. “It’s a contrast in styles, as Boston is physical and Ottawa is a skill-based team with some speed. They should be able to take care of business.”
As for series prices, Smith is backing the Blues as plus-130 underdogs against the Wild.
“It’s a great revenge angle with (St. Louis coach) Mike Yeo coming back against his old team,” Smith said. “He’s really changed the whole dynamic of the Blues, especially on defense. That was their issue at the beginning of the year, but they have the third-best penalty kill in the league, goaltender Jake Allen looks sharp and they’ve won 15 of their last 19.”
In the hot trend department, the Ducks have won 25 straight regular-season home games over the Flames, the longest such streak in NHL history. Anaheim is a minus-150 favorite over Calgary in Thursday’s opener at the Honda Center. The Flames did claim a playoff win at Anaheim in 2006.
“I think they keep (the streak) going at least for the first two games. But I’m not going to bet on it. I’m more of an underdog player,” Smith said. “I’m not willing to get in front of the trend or jump on it.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.
Conference quarterfinal series prices
New York Rangers; +105
Montreal Canadiens; -125
Columbus Blue Jackets; +150
Pittsburgh Penguins; -170
St. Louis Blues; +130
Minnesota Wild; -150
San Jose Sharks; +110
Edmonton Oilers; -130
Boston Bruins; -190
Ottawa Senators; +170
Toronto Maple Leafs; +270
Washington Capitals; -330
Nashville Predators; +170
Chicago Blackhawks; -190
Calgary Flames; +140
Anaheim Ducks; -160
NHL playoff best bets
(Courtesy of handicapper Alex Smith (AxSmithSports.com))
— Blackhawks to win Stanley Cup at 5-1 odds
— Oilers to win Stanley Cup at 16-1 odds
— Blues (+130) to beat Wild in quarterfinal series
— Senators (+110) over Bruins in Wednesday’s Game 1
— Senators-Bruins under 5 (-105) in Wednesday’s Game 1
— Predators (+150) over Blackhawks in Thursday’s Game 1