04/28/2012 - (Sportsbook Betting Lines) - The top-seeded New York Rangers survived a tough test in the opening round of the playoffs and will take on the surprising Washington Capitals today at Madison Square Garden for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Rangers were forced to come back from a 3-2 series deficit to topple the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators in the conference quarterfinals. New York ultimately won Thursday's Game 7 by a 2-1 score in regulation to advance into the second round for the first time since 2008.
New York, which won the Atlantic Division title this season, is the top seed in the East for the first time since it won its last Stanley Cup title in 1994. The Rangers will be aiming for their first conference finals appearance since 1997.
The Rangers defeated Ottawa in the first round by utilizing their superior defense and goaltending, a formula that has helped them be successful all year long. Under head coach John Tortorella, New York was ranked third in the NHL this season in goals allowed, yielding an average of just 2.22 goals per contest. The Blueshirts did even better than that in the first round, surrendering just 13 goals over the seven games.
New York's best player is often goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, a four-time Vezina Trophy finalist. In addition to landing another Vezina nod this season, the 30-year-old Swede was also named as a finalist for the Hart Trophy on Friday.
Lundqvist posted terrific numbers in the first round against Ottawa, allowing 12 goals on 217 shots for a .945 save percentage and a 1.70 goals-against average. He is 19-23 all-time in the postseason with a 2.45 GAA and a .915 save percentage.
While the Rangers boast a world-class goaltender and one of the best defensive units in the league, New York's forward depth leaves something to be desired. The team's offense would certainly improve if top sniper Marian Gaborik can get his game back on track after a disappointing first round. The speedy Gaborik led the Rangers with 41 goals and 76 points during the regular season, but he finished with one goal and two assists against Ottawa and was held pointless in the last three games of the series.
Brian Boyle led the club with three goals against Ottawa, but his status for the conference semifinals is cloudy. Boyle suffered a concussion in Game 5 against Ottawa and sat out the last two games of the series, but the centerman is questionable for Game 1. Forward Brandon Dubinsky is also questionable for today with a leg injury suffered in Game 7 against Ottawa.
Top centerman Brad Richards led New York with five points on two goals and three assists in the opening round. Richards, a proven playoff performer who won the Conn Smythe Trophy during Tampa Bay's Stanley Cup title in 2004, is partaking in his first playoff run as a Ranger.
The Rangers are well-established as a defense-first team, but Washington head coach Dale Hunter has somehow instilled the same qualities in a Capitals team that was known in recent years for scoring and not much else.
Hunter's system worked like a charm in Round 1, as the seventh-seeded Capitals ousted the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the conference quarterfinals. Washington beat the Bruins in seven games, outscoring the second-seeded club by a 16-15 margin in an tightly-contested series.
One issue with the Capitals system is that Washington's star sniper Alex Ovechkin has seen his ice time dwindle under Hunter, who took over the head coaching job when Bruce Boudreau was fired in late November. While other Capitals like Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin, who are both known mostly for their scoring, have bought into Hunter's strategy, Ovechkin is still struggling to mesh with the new coach's philosophy.
Even with his reduced ice time, Ovechkin managed to lead all Washington players with five points (2G, 3A) in the opening round of the postseason.
Hunter has been given a great deal of credit for Washington's upset of the Bruins in the first round, and deservedly so, but it's hard to ignore the contributions of rookie goaltender Braden Holtby. The 22-year-old Holtby was forced into a starting role in Round 1 after Washington's top-two netminders -- Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth -- were both sidelined with injuries heading into the playoffs. Neuvirth has since returned to health, but Hunter was wise to keep using the red-hot rookie as the starter.
Holtby had 21 games of regular-season experience under his belt, but had never seen action in an NHL playoff game before Game 1 against the Bruins. A fourth- round draft pick by Washington in 2008, Holtby stopped 233-of-248 shots in the seven games against Boston for a .940 save percentage and a 2.00 goals-against average. He also won Game 7 in overtime, stopping 31-of-32 shots to shock the Bruins.
The Rangers and Caps split four meetings this year with each team winning a game at home and on the road. Overall, Washington outscored the Blueshirts by a 13-11 margin during the 2011-12 season series.
Lundqvist played in three of the four games against the Capitals in the regular season and went 2-1 with a 3.00 GAA and .859 save percentage. Holtby faced the Rangers once this season on April 7 in New York and stopped 35-of-36 shots to help Washington earn a 4-1 victory. However, the Rangers had little to play for when they faced Holtby a few weeks ago, having already clinched the division title and the top seed in the East.
This marks the seventh playoff series between the Rangers and Capitals and Washington has taken four of those six matchups. The Capitals beat New York in the conference quarterfinals in both 2009 and 2011, winning last year's series in just five games. The last time the Rangers defeated Washington was in the 1994 conference semifinals.
"It is the past and you try not to think about it, but it's hard because they knocked us out two different years. We really want to beat this team. It's a great challenge for us to face this team now. They're playing well, they're a confident group. It's going to be exciting and interesting to see how this plays out," said Lundqvist of New York's recent playoff history against the Caps.
Game 2 of this best-of-seven series is scheduled for Monday night in New York.
<< Lincecum tries to turn a corner against Padres
(Sportsbook Betting Lines) - It might not have been vintage Tim Lincecum, but it's the closest the former Cy Young Award winner has gotten this season. The right-hander will try to build off his first victory of 2012 this evening as the San Francisco
<< Nats set to debut Harper in Strasburg's outing vs. Dodgers
(Sportsbook Betting Lines) - Normally, just an appearance from Nationals pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg might be enough to fill up a ballpark. However, baseball fans around Los Angeles can witness something else special this evening: the major league
<< Moscoso steps in for Rockies against Mets
(Sportsbook Betting Lines) - Following a freak accident to Opening Day starter Jeremy Guthrie, the Colorado Rockies will call upon Guillermo Moscoso to start tonight's second portion of a three-game series with the New York Mets. Guthrie has gone 2-1
<< Bedard tries to find win column as Pirates battle Braves
(Sportsbook Betting Lines) - Wins have certainly been hard to come by in the last calendar year for Erik Bedard, and tonight the lefty aims for his first victory in a Pittsburgh uniform as the Pirates and Braves play the second portion of a four-game ser
Simon to face Fognini for Bucharest crown >>
Bucharest, Romania (Sportsbook Betting Lines) - Gilles Simon of France will try for his third title in Bucharest on Sunday against Italy's Fabio Fognini after both won semifinal matches on Saturday. The top-seeded Simon earned a 7-5, 6-2 vic
Tigers place Young on restricted list >>
Bronx, NY (Sportsbook Betting Lines) - The Detroit Tigers have placed outfielder Delmon Young on the restricted list following his arrest early Friday morning in New York. Young, according to reports, allegedly made anti-Semitic comments and attacke
Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Philadelphia vs. New Jersey >>
(Sportsbook Betting Lines) - The Philadelphia Flyers entered this postseason as a considerable underdog to win their first-round series, but Peter Laviolette's club surprised many by ousting the Pittsburgh Penguins from the Eastern Conference quarterfina
Nadal closes in on another clay title >>
Barcelona, Spain (Sportsbook Betting Lines) - Rafael Nadal is one step away from another clay court title and will play for the Barcelona Open crown on Sunday against fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in a rematch of the 2011 final. Nadal rolled past co
Many fans thought it was the best side in the nation by the end of last season. This year, the polls have built on Georgia's momentum and granted it the No. 1 preseason ranking, followed by Ohio State and USC. (The Associated Press has the Buckeyes at No. 2; USA Today took the Trojans.)
"To have people believing we have one of the best teams in the nation going into this thing, it's exciting for us," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt told the AP. "I don't think anything is guaranteed, but we certainly have put ourselves in position where at least the college football world thinks we're pretty good."
Georgia Bulldogs - 9.5 wins
There's no question they're good, but the Bulldogs have one of the toughest 12-game schedules in the nation, mostly because they play in the powerhouse Southeastern Conference. Away games at No. 15 Arizona State, No. 7 LSU and No. 10 Auburn loom large, with contests between the hedges versus No. 24 Alabama and No. 18 Tennessee as well as the World's Largest Cocktail Party in Jacksonville versus No.5 Florida.
Ohio State Buckeyes - 10 wins
Like the Bulldogs, the Buckeyes also have a number of tough road contests in 2008. After two scrimmages dressed up as real games versus Youngstown State and Ohio, it's off to face USC. Other tough away games include No.13 Wisconsin in October and No. 20 Illinois in November. Granted, it should be pretty easy sledding at the Horseshoe. In fact, the only ranked team that travels to Columbus is No. 22 Penn State, in October.
USC Trojans - 10.5 wins
A similarly light schedule awaits the Trojans of Southern California, which is why the oddsmakers' total is one win more and the over is currently commanding -150 odds. Pete Carroll's troops only play three ranked teams in 2008, and all of those games are at home. After what should be an easy trip to Virginia to start things off on Aug. 30, the Trojans get two weeks to prepare for Ohio State in Los Angeles. Their two other ranked opponents, No. 21 Oregon and No. 15 Arizona State, visit in consecutive weeks to start the month of October. After that, the competition eases up. Of course, this is the same highly-touted school that lost to Stanford in 2007 and Oregon State in 2006. And don't discount the fact that USC plays its biggest rivals, Notre Dame and UCLA, back-to-back to close out the regular season. On paper, the Trojans are far superior, but motivation will be high for the Irish and Bruins, especially if their historic foes are in national-title contention.
Tim Tebow, Florida - 7/2
He won it last year, so it's no surprise he's the favorite to do it again, making him just the second player to go back-to-back. Ohio State's Archie Griffin turned the trick in 1974 and 1975, and Tebow's coach, Urban Meyer, is pretty sure his star quarterback can match the Buckeyes legend.
"There has never been anyone quite like him," Meyer told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I am very lucky to be his coach."
Chris Wells, Ohio State - 5/1
The man they call "Beanie" was a star recruit out of high school, so it's not like nobody knew who the star tailback was before he rushed for 576 yards as a freshman in 2006 and 1,609 as a sophomore. But perhaps his finest moment came last year versus Michigan when he rumbled for 222 yards and two touchdowns in the Buckeyes' 14-3 victory over the hated Wolverines.
Knowshon Moreno, Georgia - 8/1
If the Bulldogs are to live up to expectations, they'll need a huge effort from their sophomore running back. This might be the last year of college ball for Moreno, who rushed for 1,334 yards and for 14 touchdowns as a freshman, while adding 253 receiving yards on 20 receptions, so expect big things for the man from Belford, N.J.
Stay with us here as we take you through the best in NFL action on a consistent basis, with advice columns as well as handicapping selections. If you're looking for college football betting, that's in our NCAA section, which you can reach by clicking here. And if you're looking for a different kind of football, such as the Canadian Football League, which we'll deal with occasionally, or the Arena Football League, which we really like, you can find it in our Miscellaneous section by clicking
Note: Monday night game will be picked Monday. Lines used are from football betting lines .
To visit this sportsbook got to MySportsbook.com for all your football betting needs. Mysportsbook.com online sports betting