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?
It turns out that the Bruins do, and this might give the Penguins some sleepless nights. Despite their star-power up front, they do not play so well as a team when they are worried about what's behind them. Krejci, Lucic, and Horton have been dynamite on the top line, and Bergeron, Jagr, and Marchand are a handful in support. Beyond that, it becomes a bit more of a wild card, but this group should be able to put enough pressure on Vokoun to see what he's really made of.
In Boston's crease, it gets a lot more simple. We know what Tuukka Rask is and we know night in and night out he's going to give his team a chance to win the game. He's never had to face a team like the Penguins in a seven game series, but I think he's up to the task. If Rask can help nullify some of the Pittsburgh offense and ouplay Vokoun, this series will be up in the air.
In the last round, I picked in the Rangers to come out on top. I qualified that by saying neither outcome would surprise me, but part of the reason I sided with New York was due to the injury situation on Boston's defense. In round two, the Bruins had to rely on three rookies in critical situations. Krug emerged as a revelation, scoring four goals. Bartkowski was thrown into the fire in tough defensive situations and he more than held his own. Future superstar Dougie Hamilton also logged some key minutes and didn't disappoint in a supporting role.
The question now is whether or not these kids are up to the task against the potent Pittsburgh offense? Krug started in the offensive zone 71% of the time and faced weak competition. He won't have that luxury this time around given the Penguins depth, and if the falters, he might be parked in the press box in favor of Hamilton. The same can be said of Bartkowski. The good news for Boston is Seidenberg is back, and they have a top flight goalie behind them if there are some mishaps.
Tyler Seguin was supposed to be a lot better than he's been played thus far. Sure, it would help if he wasn't on the third line and he had better linemates and more minutes, but he's starting most of his zone starts in the offensive end and facing weak competition. If he doesn't kick it up a gear this series, it could be curtains for Boston.
The other unknown is how Boston will play on special teams. They've been very hot and cold, with three of their four power-play goals vs New York coming from the rookie Krug. They can't expect a repeat of that this round, so staying disciplined and capitilizing on their chances is an obvious must.
Having said that, when you consider how strong the Pens are on special teams, will it matter how well Boston plays? The Penguins are a staggering 28% on the power-play and equally as good on the penalty kill. They've only given up four power-play goals and scored twice short-handed themselves.
Finally, we have a grudge match of sorts with off-ice drama on both sides. Jerome Iginla was thought to be traded to the Bruins at the trade deadline, but he ultimately chose Pittsburgh instead. On the other side, it might be old news that Jaromir Jagr passed up the Pens in favor of Philly, but don't tell the Penguins fans that. They'll be sure to remind him everytime he touches the puck. Motivation will be at an all-time high for these future hall-of-famers.
When we look this matchup on paper, there's no question that Pittsburgh should be favored. What we need to ask ourselves is how much should they be favored? Right now the sportsbooks are giving the Bruins a game and a half handicap, and I'd say that's just about where it should be. If Boston were given a full two games like the Islanders and Senators were, it would be a no-brainer. But at these odds, there isn't a clear side to take. I'll roll with the underdog and hope that the goaltending disparity is as large as I think it is.
Prediction: Bruins +1.5 games for the series (-125).