SportsNet - May 2013
When it comes to betting on games involving the Pittsburgh Penguins, there is only one constant - they score a lot of goals. In their 11 playoff games so far, they've scored four or more in 9 of them. Therefore, if you want to skip the series bet altogether and just ride "over" on their team total every game, you won't get an argument from me.
Yet, before you go and asssume the Penguins will ride their high-flying offense all the way to the finals, let's consider something about the Bruins that neither the Islanders or the Senators had - balance.
It's a given that we're going to focus on this area first because goalies in hockey are like quarterbacks in football. If yours is hot, you're likely going far, if not all the way. In round one I picked the Islanders +2 games for this sole reason alone. Nabokov isn't great, but I knew Fleury could be even worse. Unfortunately for me, the Penguins had a backup plan and inserted safety-valve Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun has posted good numbers so far and been steady enough to get past Ottawa, but what if the Senators had a better offense?
With all the talk about parity in the NHL, we find ourselves with the last four Stanley Cup winners in the final four. I did not think the Los Angeles Kings were going to make it this far this season, but when you get goaltending like Quick is providing, all bets are off.
In contrast, I'm not at all surprised the Blackhawks are here, but I did not expect them to have as much trouble with the Red Wings as they did. That said, they did not face any adversity all season or in the first round of the playoffs. Once they were pushed in a corner, we saw what this team was really made of.
Let's take a closer look at the deciding factors between these two.
Both favorites, the Hawks and the Penguins, have dynamite offenses, but suspect goaltending. This is where we need to have most of our focus for this matchup. There is no denying that when the pressure is on, Quick rises to the top. He didn't have the best regular season. In fact, some could argue it was merely average. Yet, when we look at the stats page he is sitting with a .948 save percentage and the inside track to another Conne Smythe Trophy.
Arsenal should meet Fiorentina's asking price for Stevan Jovetic. The Gunners need to make a major investment in Jovetic, as a show of intent and to improve creativity along their forward line.
Arsenal are unwilling to pay Fiorentina's asking price, according to The Daily Mail. The Florence club want £25 million, but Gunners boss Arsene Wenger is only prepared to offer £20 million.
Losing out on their top target over £5 million, would be a bad way to begin a critical summer. The usually spend-shy Gunners are expected to spend big this summer.
Rumors of a £70 million war chest have increased the expectation that Wenger will be a force in this transfer window. That expectation has only increased following Wenger's comments at the end of the season.
Arsenal's transfer plans this summer will be determined by Jack Wilshere. His potential fitness and more importantly, his best role in the team, will decide who Arsenal sign.
Many consider Wilshere the crown jewel of this current Arsenal squad. He is young, tenacious and competent in possession.
The problem is nobody seems quite able to decide what his best position is. Arsene Wenger struggled with this question all through last season.
He began by playing Wilshere in a deeper role, alongside Mikel Arteta. Wenger gave Wilshere license to break forward and support advanced playmaker Santi Cazorla.
However, that plan never quite worked, as Wilshere and Cazorla often got in each other's way. Wenger's solution was to move Wilshere into the advanced position at the top of his midfield trio.
Cazorla was shifted out to the left flank to accommodate the switch. Despite some fine performances, notably in an FA Cup replay against Swansea City, Wilshere was not a major success.
He struggled in the role of Arsenal's chief creator. As a result, the flow and quality of Arsenal's forward play suffered.
Monte Kiffin can be the x-factor that wins the Dallas Cowboys the NFC East division in 2013. The ageing defensive guru will be the Cowboys' secret weapon against Robert Griffin III and Chip Kelly.
Griffin savaged the East as a rookie in 2012, helping the Washington Redskins claim the division crown. The key to his success was a read-option, pistol offense that maximized Griffin's dual-threat skills.
His ability to make plays with his arm and his feet, stretched defenses to breaking point. In particular, Griffin dominated the Cowboys.
He helped the Redskins best their arch rivals twice. One of those wins was a 38-31 victory in Dallas on Thanksgiving. Griffin hurled four touchdown passes and baffled the Cowboys defense.
It is no coincidence that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones turned to senior citizen Kiffin to run his defense. Jones saw a glimpse of what Griffin could do to the Cowboys twice a season for the next decade.
He also knows how well Kiffin has stifled dual-threat quarterbacks in the past. He made his reputation running the smothering Tampa Bay Buccaneers defenses of the late nineties and early noughties.