A trio of pivotal Game 6s are on tap in tonight's Stanley Cup Playoff slate. Will the Golden Knights, Islanders, and Lightning move on to the next round, or will the Panthers, Penguins, and Wild live to fight another game?
Let's get to the picks.
Pittsburgh Penguins (-110) at New York Islanders (-110) — Total: 5.5
The Islanders started goaltender Ilya Sorokin for three out of the five games they've played against the Penguins this series.
Sorokin secured the victory all three times. So it's no surprise that Sorokin has already been confirmed for tonight's matchup.
Nassau Coliseum is a notoriously difficult place for Isles opponents to try and win, but Pittsburgh did just that in Game 3, securing a 5-4 victory. Of course, it was Semyon Varlamov, not Sorokin, who was in net that game (Varlamov started both Islander Ls).
Sorokin has been nigh untouchable since the team turned to him the next two games, allowing a total of just three goals — that's a big deal, especially when you consider that Pittsburgh was the second-most potent offense in all of hockey during the regular season. The last two games have shown the Isles at their best: Smothering defense, elite goaltending, and timely offense.
How will Game 6 shake out?
The puck line for the Isles (-1.5) is incredibly tempting at +230 odds, but it's hard for me to see the Penguins losing this one by multiple goals, especially considering only one game this season has been decided by a multiple-goal margin. -300 odds for the plus-points for the Penguins is also not worth the chalk.
When you consider that this game is an even split -110 on the money line for both teams, you can imagine another tightly contested outcome. Both squads have shown clean, fundamentally sound hockey this series. Now, the OVER is also tempting — the Isles went 16-13-1 to the OVER at home while the Penguins cashed OVER tickets 17-12-1 away from Pittsburgh — but I'll have to lean with the heavy UNDER chalk here.
The Isles have gone back to their style of play and it has resulted in two straight victories, and I think it'll be more of the same in Game 6 as they put the Penguins away for good at home in front of 9,000 fans.
Give me the Isles on the money line and the UNDER.
Pick(s): Islanders ML (-110), Under 5.5 (-145)
Florida Panthers (+125) at Tampa Bay Lightning (-150) — Total: 6
Take a bow, Spencer Knight!
In his very first start in the playoffs, the Panthers' highly touted rookie goaltender did the unthinkable. He shut down the potent Lightning offense, sending back a whopping 36 of 37 shots en route to a shocking 4-1 victory.
Even more impressive, Knight allowed a goal in the first minute of the game, but he didn't let that faze him or rattle his composure. You would think Knight had years of NHL experience the way he delivered from that point forward. That performance — along with the struggles of Florida's other, more experienced goaltenders — earned Knight a second start, and if they manage to win, the rookie will probably continue to carry the team in net for however long their playoff journey goes.
I don't like either team in this matchup enough to bet on them. The Panthers have thus far outplayed the Lighting on the offensive end, but the Lightning took over in that department in Game 5 — even if it didn't result in many goals. On the flip side, Florida switched their usually high-flying style to a more disciplined approach in Game 5, and whether it was that style or Knight's inspired play that resulted in the victory remains to be seen. What is known is that Tampa Bay was clearly thrown off their game.
I doubt it happens again in Game 6. The Lightning are just too overwhelmingly talented to suffer another offensive stifling the way they did. I expect them to come out and challenge the rookie early and often, shooting as much as they can to test his resolve in this all-important matchup.
I don't see Knight — for all his talent and poise — shutting down for a second time the likes of Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat and ... see where I'm going here?
The Panthers, too, are capable of scoring in bunches, and as good as Andrei Vasilevskiy is, I can see this game quickly turning into a back-and-forth affair with Florida trying to stay alive and an angry Tampa Bay team trying to close out their crosstown rivals. If the Lightning grab another early lead (as they've done multiple times this series) the pressure will be on the Panthers to keep up.
For those reasons, I'll go the slightly contrarian route and take the OVER.
Pick: OVER 6 (-105)
Vegas Golden Knights (-140) at Minnesota Wild (+115) — Total: 5.5
I don't know about you, but among all the matchups in this first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, this Wild-Golden Knights series has been the hardest to bet on.
In fact, while I've had leans and picks for every game, the only pick I've been confident enough to actually bet on was a contrarian OVER play in Game 3 (it hit easily *pats self on the back*).
Outside of the Colorado Avalanche, the Knights seemed like the best team in the entire NHL; they ranked third in overall offense and first in overall defense with the best penalty kill in the league.
Of course, this is the playoffs, and if the Knights' playoff history has taught us anything, it's that things tend to be unpredictable and often contrarian to public opinion in their games.
The Wild have fought to get to this point, delivering a supremely clutch 4-2 victory in Game 5 after three straight defeats and when they were set to be eliminated with a loss.
Like I said, this is a tough game to bet on. For as much as I think the Knights could close the series out here, I'm not so confident to think that a desperate Wild team — who went 21-7-2 at home this year — can't pull out at least one more victory.
With each team playing some mistake-free (albeit unlucky at times) hockey — there have only been 22 penalties (!!!) in this entire series — and both goaltenders being of the elite variety, I'll take the acceptable chalk with the UNDER play here.
Pick: UNDER 5.5 (-120)
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