NHL Betting: In-form Blackhawks To Land First Blow vs St Louis

Chicago Blackhawks 2.75, St Louis Blues 2.35

These are tied third favourites at 8.50 to end up as Stanley Cup winners, and it's absolutely crazy that this a conference quarter final - and the Blues are to blame.

A dire six game losing streak saw them miss out on the Central Division when two points from any of those would have been enough, Chicago too closed their regular season out unconvincingly dropping two straight.

I suspect most of that form was down to injuries and both clubs have managed their rosters so that key components can feature here in Game 1, the Blues have greater numbers returning but they don't come much more significant than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane back in for the Blackhawks.

Those two along with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp give Chicago greater top end and each of that foursome had more points than St Louis' top producer Alex Steen, matching that superstar scoring is very difficult but Ken Hitchcock knows he has one of the very few rosters with enough depth to pose questions from every angle.

At times during the season the Blues possessed by some distance the highest goal differential - but since the Olympic break their offence cooled off and with it the blistering results. Momentum is with the defending champions so take the Hawks to land the first blow tonight.


Los Angeles Kings 2.90, San Jose Sharks 2.30

San Jose are my tip to win it all at this early stage (available at 10.00) and this first round series against their fierce state rivals who KO'd them last year will be a huge test of their validity as challengers.

Game 7 was required to separate them that previous time around with each clash going to the home side, only one of those games featured more than three goals and that low scoring trend has continued through to this regular season's series.

The Kings are a lineup built for playoff hockey and love to grind you down with a no-frills but highly proficient brand of hockey, as their 2012 Cup run from the 8th seed proved they just need to build up some momentum before they become very difficult to stop.

Improvements of defence definitely make the Sharks better equipped to deal with the attrition of playoff hockey too, the likes of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun are excellent shutdown options at the blueline who should see plenty of ice time against LA's leading light Anze Kopitar. Another plus in the Sharks favour is their added skill and depth up front, unless the Kings solve the scoring problems that have affected them all year they will lose out in the tight moments.

As well as the unders I think the value is with San Jose to maintain the home positivity at 2.20.

Best Bet: Chicago Blackhawks to win at 2.85