Three qualifying series games, plus two round-robin contests, are featured on the Thursday NHL playoff schedule. My focus is on two of the matchups. Toronto and Columbus are tied at 1-1 and will play the third game of their Eastern Conference qualifying series. Calgary is up 2-1 on Winnipeg as the Flames look to win their Western Conference playoff series against the Jets.
Toronto vs. Columbus – Scotiabank Arena 8:00 PM ET
After they both posted shutout victories, during the first two games of their Eastern Conference qualifying series, Toronto and Columbus are set to play a pivotal Game 3 tonight. Goals by Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg, plus a 28-save performance by goaltender Joonas Korpisalo, powered the Blue Jackets to a 2-0 Game 1 win on Sunday. Columbus controlled the tempo with a heavy hitting attack that smothered the high-scoring Maple Leafs offense.
Toronto’s top players stepped up in Game 2 and the Maple Leafs rebounded with a 3-0 win on Tuesday. Auston Matthews and John Tavares scored to put Toronto up 2-0 before Morgan Rielly potted an empty net goal to seal the deal. Frederik Andersen was lightly tested as he stopped 20 Columbus shots to help Toronto even the series. It was a dominating performance as the Maple Leafs cranked up their offense and outshot the Blue Jackets by a 39-20 margin.
The Blue Jackets had a 37-26 hit advantage in Game 1 but the numbers dropped to 28-18 in favor of Columbus during Game 2. These teams scored 12 combined goals during two regular season meetings as the Maple Leafs won 4-1 in Columbus and the Blue Jackets posted a 4-3 OT victory in Toronto. Home team designation switches to Columbus in this contest so the Blue Jackets have the last line change. Expecting a close game bet on the Maple Leafs moneyline.
Pick: Toronto Maple Leafs (-150)
Calgary vs Winnipeg – Rogers Place Arena 10:30 PM ET
With their season on the line, Winnipeg is the designated home team as they attempt to stave off elimination against Calgary. The Flames posted a 4-1 Game 1 win on Saturday as they outshot the Jets by a 33-18 margin. Mikael Backlund and Johnny Gaudreau scored power-play goals and veteran goaltender Cam Talbot was solid in net for Calgary. Winnipeg all-stars Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine were both injured during Game 1 and are not expected to return.
Bouncing back, Winnipeg posted a 3-2 victory in Game 2 on Monday as Jansen Harkins, Adam Lowry and Nikolaj Ehlers each scored once for the Jets. Connor Hellebuyck was strong in goal as he stopped 28 of the 30 shots he faced. The Jets went up 2-0 before Elias Lindholm and Sam Bennett scored for the Flames to tie the game. Calgary dominated Game 3 on Tuesday as six different players scored and the Flames rolled to a 6-2 win to take a 2-1 lead in this series.
It is difficult to compete when a team loses two of their top four regular season point producers and one has to wonder how much fight is left in the Jets. The Fames are red-hot on offence as 14 players have at least one point. The top six Calgary scorers have posted 20 combined points during the first three games. Winnipeg losing Scheifele and Laine has given Calgary a huge edge in this series. Lay the Game 4 puck line and bet on Calgary closing out this series tonight.
Pick: Calgary Flames -1.5 (+170)