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Pete Truszkowski is back with Sunday's NHL picks from across the league

NHL Playoff Predictions - Sunday, June 6

The Vegas Golden Knights got a well-earned win on Friday night to get back in the series during game three. Will they be able to even the series on home ice? Elsewhere, the Winnipeg Jets are in major trouble as they head to Montreal down 2-0. Can they make this a series? Let’s dive in.

Jets vs. Canadiens Prediction

Montreal Leads 2-0

After a high scoring opener in the series, game two was more the style we expected between these two teams. Montreal won 1-0, with the lone goal coming on special teams. Both Connor Hellebuyck and Carey Price were splendid, with the latter recording his first shutout of these playoffs.

With these two teams, there’s reason to believe that this series will stay low scoring.

Carey Price currently ranks third in these playoffs with a goals saved above expectation mark of +8. He’s stopped 93.5% of the shots he’s faced from both Toronto and Winnipeg while giving up barely over two goals per game. Price was considered by many as the best goalie of the 2010s before falling on harder times over the past two seasons. However, Price looks to be his old self in these playoffs.

While Price was the best goaltender of the prior decade, Connor Hellebuyck is off and running making his case to be the best goalie of the current decade. Hellebuyck won the Vezina trophy as the league’s best netminder in 2020 before leading the league in goals saved above expectation this season. He currently ranks second in these playoffs with a goals saved above expectation mark of +8.4.

Price’s job hasn’t been that difficult in these series due to the team in front of him and their ability to prevent Winnipeg from generating high danger chances. Through two games, Winnipeg has just eight high danger chances and 2.6 expected goals combined at 5-on-5. Shea Weber and the rest of Montreal’s defense has been splendid in front of Price.

On the other side, Montreal has been fine in terms of generating high danger chances. They had 11 themselves in game two of this series, but scored 0 times on those chances. Hellebuyck certainly doesn’t help matters, but Montreal has always struggled converting their dangerous opportunities. In the past, Montreal has been amongst the league’s best teams in terms of generating chances, but their actual results lagged behind.

Things won’t get easier for Winnipeg, as there are still three games remaining on the suspension to Mark Scheifele, who is the Jets’ top line center. Paul Stastny might return from injury for game three, but he only partly can replace the hole left by Scheifele. Winnipeg will need more from Pierre-Luc Dubois, who has been largely invisible in these playoffs.

I struggle to see an explosion of goals in this series. We have two elite netminders on top of their games. In addition, we see a team struggling to generate offense due to injuries and the other team struggling to take advantage of their chances. While it may not be 1-0 again, I see this game staying under 5.5 goals.

Bet: Under 5.5 Goals @ -137

Avalanche vs. Golden Knights Predictions

Colorado Leads 2-1

The Colorado Avalanche were the NHL’s best team during the regular season. They won the President’s Trophy given to the team with the best record. More importantly, the underlying metrics confirmed their dominance. They ranked first in terms of expected goal rate, shot attempt share, high danger chance percentage and 5-on-5 goal differential. They led the NHL in both expected goals scored and expected goals against. In round one, they were absolutely dominant in their sweep of the St. Louis Blues. Game one of this series? 7-1 trouncing of Vegas.

Despite this, the Vegas Golden Knights have rebounded extremely well and have been the better team in the last two games of this series. At 5-on-5, the expected goals in the last two contests favor Vegas, 5.78 to 1.98. Yes, Vegas has posted nearly a 75% expected goal rate over the last two contests against the league’s best and most dominant team.

Despite this, Colorado won game two and Vegas needed a magical minute to win game three. Colorado held a 2-1 lead in the third period before Jonathan Marchessault and Max Pacioretty scored 45 seconds apart to put the Knights in front with just about five minutes left. Vegas generated 15 high danger chances and permitted only four to Colorado, but the Avalanche hung around and held the lead late.

Colorado coach Jared Bednar has not tried glossing over the problems. He made quite clear that he’s aware of how badly his team has been outplayed and how unacceptable it is. In fact, he even split up Colorado’s top line with Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen in game three.

Vegas is a very good team. They finished 2nd in the league in terms of points percentage and were top ten in most metrics. However, Colorado was in a league of their own. Seeing the Avalanche get outplayed so badly is borderline shocking. One has to expect a better effort from the Avs in game four.

Entering the series, most thought Vegas’ lone advantage in this series would be between the pipes. Marc-Andre Fleury had a brilliant season for Vegas while the jury was still out on Philipp Grubauer, despite his Vezina nomination. However, Grubauer has been great in this series, posting a goals saved above expectation of +3.88. Fleury didn’t play in game one, but has been very average in the two games he has started, posting a goals saved above expectation of -0.15.

I might get burned by ignoring the trend line of this series and discounting momentum, but entering these playoffs, I had Colorado as clear favorites to win the Stanley Cup. I think they’re far and away the best team in this league. I expect them to figure their game out, and even if they don’t, their talent level and goaltending can keep them in games they’re outplayed in.

As an underdog, I’d bet the Avalanche in every single spot in every single game. It might be overly obtuse, but I’ll always take the best team in the league as a dog.

Bet: Colorado Avalanche ML @ -105


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