Pittsburgh Penguins (+152) at New York Rangers (-169, 5.5 o/u)
After accumulating a franchise-record 53 wins and 113 points during the regular season, the New York Rangers (53-22-7, 25-11-5 home) are eager to start their postseason series against the Pittsburgh Penguins (43-27-12, 20-13-8 away) today at Madison Square Garden (7:00 PM Eastern).
Bad blood is already brewing between the squads thanks to their meeting in last year’s playoffs. The Rangers came back from a 3-1 deficit against the then-favored Penguins to reach the Eastern Conference finals.
“I don’t think anyone expected us to do as well as we did last year,” said the Rangers’ leading scorer Rick Nash. “I think we have to embrace it and look at it as a challenge and challenge ourselves. We’re obviously going to be the team to beat going in.”
New York ended the season with the best record in the NHL and plays a very balanced game. They ranked third in both goals for (3.0 per game) and goals against (2.3).
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, barely made it to the postseason after losing five of their last six games. They looked like a lock for the playoffs three weeks ago, but needed a 2-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres in the last game of the year just to punch their ticket to the second season.
The Pens will be doing their best to put the late-season slump out of their minds heading into tonight’s game, instead focusing on what they can change from last year’s playoff collapse.
Said captain Sidney Crosby, “I think later on in that [2014 playoff] series, we didn’t do a good enough job of just finding ways to grab [momentum] back, whether it be with a power-play goal or a big shift where you get extended time to draw a penalty, something like that … You don’t want to give them a lot of opportunities and get back on your heels.”
The Rangers won three of four against Pittsburgh in the regular season and, dating back to last year, have won six of the last seven head-to-head. There’s every reason to like the streaking Rangers to top the slumping Pens at home in Game 1.
My pick: Rangers -169.
(Photo credit: Elliot from Castro Valley, California, USA (Sidney Crosby) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo may appear cropped from its original.)