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This Week's Best NHL Bets

This Week's Best NHL Bets

This Week's Best NHL Bets
By Bill McBride

HOT TEAM: Vancouver Canucks

The cliches all fit at this time of the year. You have to take it one game at a time. You have to worry about the things you can control. And you have to make the most of your home games.

Well, Vancouver has done all three, especially the latter. In defeating Calgary, 3-2, on Saturday night, the Canucks took over the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference with three games left. The victory was also the team's sixth straight, the last four of which came at home. The run is even more impressive when you consider all of those wins came without injured forward Daniel Sedin, who is recovering from a concussion.

The Canucks have done it all in this stretch, but their defense and goaltending have been paramount. No opponent in those six games scored more than two goals, and goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider now have a combined 2.24 goals-against average.

The schedule is awfully kind the rest of the way, so this pattern may hold. Vancouver closes with three teams who will not be in the postseason: Anaheim, Calgary and Edmonton.

COLD TEAM: Carolina Hurricanes

Typically, we shy away from teams who've packed it in for the season, but we want to highlight Carolina because this team could truly affect the Eastern Conference playoff race in the season's last week.

The Hurricanes have three games left, and two of them will mean the world for their opponents: Tuesday at Ottawa,Saturday at Florida. Both teams will likely throw everything at the Hurricanes as the battle for positioning winds down. And if form holds, Carolina won't put up much of a fight.

On Saturday, the Hurricanes were blasted by the Devils, 5-0, in Raleigh, as New Jersey clinched a postseason berth. The loss was Carolina's fourth in the last five games, and the Hurricanes' second shutout loss this month.

Coach Kirk Muller has a lot of work to do in the offseason, and keeping the troops motivated might be No. 1 on his list. After all, there is talent on this roster. To look at the stat sheet on April 1 and find that only two players -- Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner -- have topped 20 goals? That's a problem.

OVER PLAY: New Jersey Devils

Some teams are playing more recklessly these days. But with what's at stake right now for New Jersey, we find it awfully interesting that the Devils of all teams are more up and down the ice than normal.

The aforementioned 5-0 win Saturday over Carolina calmed things down for coach Peter DeBoer's team on the backline. But strangely enough, this normally defensively sound club has been making money for over bettors.

The Devils are 3-1-1 over in their last five, 5-2-1 in their last eight. The games have been bizarre, too: A 6-4 win over Tampa Bay on Thursday, in which New Jersey had to rally three times; a 4-3 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs on March 23, in which the Devils also had to rally just to extract a point.

Depending on a first-round matchup, this style may be OK. As of now, the Devils seem locked into the No. 6 hole, where they'd face Florida, a team new to the playoff mix. But if the Devils keep winning the rest of the way -- they have three games left, two at home -- and the Flyers keep struggling, well, New Jersey may end up in the No. 5 seed and play Pittsburgh in Round 1. The Devils don't want to match offensive firepower with the Penguins.

UNDER PLAY: Phoenix Coyotes

These are interesting times for Phoenix, a team that's generating a buzz and making people temporarily forget it might have to leave town soon. But for the here and now, the Coyotes are alive and well in the Western Conference postseason mix. They've been doing it with defense.

With the possibility of finishing as the Nos. 3, 7 or 8 seed -- or even possibly out of the fray altogether -- the Coyotes have buckled down on the back line and seem to be making the most of their opportunities. Saturday's 4-0 win over Anaheim was their third straight under and second consecutive shutout.

Goaltender Mike Smith has been a key. He made 44 saves against the Ducks, posted both of those blankings -- he now has seven this season -- and was also named the team's MVP over the weekend.

The schedule may help to continue this run. Phoenix has three games left, two against teams headed home before the postseason begins: Columbus and Minnesota.


We mentioned the Devils' dilemma earlier, and how New Jersey may actually do harm to its positioning if it keeps winning. Well, Philadelphia, a team that could slide down and take the Devils' desirable No. 6 spot away from them, can also have a say, and the Flyers' road is not easy. If the Flyers truly want to avoid Pittsburgh, damage the Devils, and draw Florida in Round 1, it won't be all that difficult. Beginning on Sunday with a date at Pittsburgh, Philadelphia embarked on its final four games of the season. All are against tough teams fighting for either postseason life or matchups. There's another game with the Penguins, as well as home tilts against the Rangers and Sabres. Interesting conundrum for Philadelphia.

San Jose stemmed a disturbing tide with a 3-0 win over Dallas on Saturday, but if the enigmatic Sharks want to make the postseason, they have a tough road to tackle this week. San Jose has three games left, all against teams fighting for their own playoff lives. The Sharks will again meet the Stars on Tuesday, then close with a home-and-home series against Los Angeles on Thursday and Saturday.

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