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There's a two-game Stanley Cup playoff slate tonight, featuring Game 5 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes, as well as the fifth contest in the tightly contested series between the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights.
Let's get to the picks.
I can't imagine how frustrated the Carolina Hurricanes must feel right now.
By most advanced metrics, the Hurricanes have outplayed the Lightning this series. They suffered from some seriously bad puck luck early on, scoring just four regulation goals through the first three games.
So, all agents of variance (like yours truly) knew that an offensive explosion was coming. And it came in Game 4 when the Hurricanes rattled off four goals in the second period to take a 4-2 lead in the game.
For a second there, it looked like Carolina's luck had finally turned, that it was about to comfortably win the game and make it a 2-2 series.
Then the Lightning kicked things into a nightmare gear and ultimately won, 6-4. Now, the Canes return home to the PNC Arena on the brink of elimination.
Tampa Bay's aforementioned nightmare gear is one we haven't seem much this season, namely because Nikita Kucherov was hurt. But Game 4 showed exactly how dangerous the duo of Kucherov and Steven Stamkos is, as the forwards combined for four goals, two assists, and eight SOGs.
It's do-or-die for the Hurricanes. Will they survive for a Game 6?
A looming question for Carolina is whether it will stick with veteran Petr Mrazek — who was just torched for six goals, including four straight unanswered — or return to youngster Alex Nedeljkovic, who lost Games 1 and 2 but held the Lightning to four total goals. Neither goaltender has been confirmed as of this writing, but one would expect Carolina to return to Nedeljkovic, who is rested and could provide a spark in net. Injuries have also played a part in Carolina being down 3-1, as the team has certainly missed Nino Niederreiter and Vincent Trocheck. They're both listed as questionable as of this writing, but you have to expect that one, if not both of them, will try to suit up for this elimination game.
Ultimately, the Hurricanes will have to put the deflating result of Game 4 behind them to have any chance in this game. They finally saw their offense awaken only to watch the Lightning match them shot for shot, and then some. But, as heartbreaking as that game was, having a chance to survive at home as opposed to the road is a better fate than the alternative. After all, Carolina was absolutely dominant at home during the regular season (23-5-5).
The line movement of this series has been interesting. Tampa Bay has gone from a small favorite, to an underdog, to an above-average favorite, to a slightly bigger above-average favorite, and now, they're back to an average favorite at -125. The Hurricanes aren't getting much juice at +105, which says to me that they still deserve respect, especially at home, even if the Lightning just hammered them to oblivion.
I do believe the Lightning will ultimately win this series. Talent isn't everything, but as we saw in Game 4, talent is sometimes more than enough, and the Lightning have talent in droves.
That said, I'm taking the plus money with the Hurricanes in this one. Betting against the Lightning gives me a chill down my spine, but I think Carolina's desperation factor, the (expected) return of Nedeljkovic, and some regression in Tampa Bay's eye-opening power-play success rate will help the Canes survive one more game. We also can't ignore Carolina's home-ice advantage, and the PNC Arena is expected to be packed for this one.
I'm thinking the Hurricanes come out swinging early and often, and steal one more game in this series.
Pick: Carolina Hurricanes ML (+105)
Remember when the Colorado Avalanche crushed the Vegas Golden Knights, 7-1, in Game 1?
That seems like a thousand years ago.
The Golden Knights have completely shifted the narrative of this series, as early on (and all through the playoffs), the Avalanche looked like they were unstoppable. Yet, here we stand, heading into Game 5 of a 2-2 series.
And the catalyst for the Knights' success? Well, as surprising as it sounds, the Knights have used Colorado's own strength against them, forechecking them into oblivion, possessing the puck, and charging towards the net. Colorado has been on its heels; a place that they usually put their opponents into with ease.
That sustained, overwhelming forecheck reached a peak in Game 4 when the Knights suffocated the Avs en route to a 5-1 victory.
Each team has now earned two lopsided victories; we have ourselves a series, people.
Even after two straight losses, the Avalanche are a solid favorite at -140 odds to make this a 3-2 series in Game 5 at Ball Arena. The Knights are getting some surprisingly heavy juice for a team that has shown they can not only defeat the Avalanche, but they can win this series if the Avs don't figure out how to counter that forecheck.
Neither of those lines seem particularly right to me, so I'll turn my attention to this total.
The Avalanche have lived up to their name at home in these playoffs, going 4-0 and averaging five goals per game. I'm thinking a return to the friendly confines of Ball Arena will be just what the doctor ordered for this potent Avalanche attack. The Knights would do well not to move away from what's worked the last two games, but they'll also need to score in order to secure a 3-2 lead away from Vegas.
I like the OVER here, and I can definitely see this game, in particular, requiring an extra period.
Pick: OVER 5.5 (-105)