Since we last talked about the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs the field of 16 has been whittled down to a field of four. Surprisingly the early favorites who were seeded #1 aren’t the ones leading the charge to the NHL Finals – though I don’t think you can call any of these teams a Cinderella story. In the Eastern Conference it’s a match-up of two #2 seeds as the Pittsburgh Penguins lace up the skates against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Penguins currently hold a 2-1 series lead, but more on that in a minute. In the Western Conference it’s the #2 St. Louis Blues going up against the #3 San Jose Sharks, and as of today the Sharks hold a 2-1 series lead. For either of these teams to close out and move on to the Stanley Cup Finals they’ll need to win at least two more games. Let’s start with the latest betting odds in the East, where game four drops the puck at center ice at 8:05 PM ET, 7:05 CT. On the money line the Penguins are a narrow -140 favorite, with the Lightning a +120 for a slight upset. That’s not big money either way but it tells you how closely matched these teams are, though the Pens morale will be high given forward Patric Hornqvist is expected back after blocking a shot with his hand in game 3. Sidney Crosby scored his second goal of the series en route to a commanding 4-2 win, so the hope for the Lightning has to be (1.) the crowd will rally for them to not drop two at home and (2.) Andrei Vasilevskiy has a better night in front of the net. Then again throwing a temper tantrum when things aren’t going your way isn’t going to help his team one bit. It should come as little surprise that the overall betting odds for the best of 7 series overall have the Pens a healthy -550 favorite and the Lightning a +425 dog. I see little reason to believe that will change. Meanwhile in the Western Conference the current lines for Saturday’s game at 7:15 PM ET have the Sharks as a -155 money line favorite and the Blues a +135 dog, and the best of 7 series line is eerily similar: -250 for the Sharks and +210 for the Blues. Before you sing the blues for the St. Louis Blues keep in mind that this is the same team that knocked the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in the opening round of this year’s playoffs. They may be down 2-1 right now but after two straight shutouts look for David Backes and Vladimir Tarasenko to put the team on their backs and lead the charge down the ice. I actually like the Blues as the underdog in this game to break the drought they’re in and tie the series up at two games apiece, though I still like the Sharks on the overall line to clinch and go on to the Stanley Cup Finals. As always these previews are for entertainment purposes only, and if you’re going to wager on sports, please only spend what you can afford. Enjoy the NHL Playoffs and we’ll be back again for the finals!
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