Stanley Cup Playoffs: Thursday’s NHL betting preview

Thursday night’s Stanley Cup Playoffs betting board features both Western Conference semifinals matchups with the St. Louis Blues hosting the Dallas Stars and the San Jose Sharks visiting the Nashville Predators.

Dallas Stars at St. Louis Blues (A: +125, H: -145, O/U: 5)

Blues lead series 2-1

The Dallas Stars owned the league’s most potent attack during the regular season, but the St. Louis Blues are putting on an offensive show in the second-round series between the Central Division rivals. Coming off a six-goal outburst, the Blues can push the visiting Stars to the brink of elimination in Game 4 on Thursday night.

After salvaging a split in Dallas with a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 2, St. Louis steamrolled the Stars 6-1 on Tuesday night, but Blues coach Ken Hitchcock sounded a cautionary tone with the media on Wednesday. “We have a 2-1 lead in a playoff series very much up in the air,” Hitchcock told reporters. “They (the Stars) get the game tomorrow and they’re thinking they have home ice back again.” Emotions were high toward the end of Game 3 and there could be a carry-over effect after St. Louis forward Ryan Reaves blew a kiss to the Dallas bench following a fight with Curtis McKenzie. “Our guys were embarrassed last night, and that’s stuff you take to heart,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said of the incident. “That’s stuff you use.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, CBC, TVAS

PROBABLE GOALIES:

Stars – Kari Lehtonen (W/L: 4-1, GAA: 2.70, SAVE %: .906)

Blues – Brian Elliott (W/L: 6-4, GAA: 2.25, SAVE %: .931)

MATCHUP CHART:

ABOUT THE STARS (55-25-11, 42-49 ATS, 50-39 O/U): Ruff has masterfully alternated goaltenders Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen, who each registered 25 wins during the regular season and took turns picking up one another in the postseason before each stumbled in the past two games against St. Louis. Lehtonen was yanked after allowing three goals on five shots in the Game 2 loss before Niemi was pulled after surrendering three goals on 12 shots in Tuesday’s rout, giving Ruff a tough decision for Game 4. “It hasn’t been a goalie issue, really,” Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski told reporters. “We’re giving up some big chances at bad times, early in games. … But losing confidence in our goalies is not an issue. It’s our game. It’s been that way all season.”

ABOUT THE BLUES (55-27-10, 42-50 ATS, 37-42 O/U): St. Louis captain David Backes had a spotty playoff history with only five goals in his previous past five postseasons combined, but he has matched that total with five goals in 10 games against Chicago and Dallas. Three of those have been game-winning tallies for Backes, including a pair in overtime, to join Brett Hull and Scott Young as the only players in franchise history with three in one postseason. “He’s stepping up to the plate right now,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo told reporters. “I think that’s three game-winning goals for us, that’s what we need from our leader. He’s obviously a big influence in the dressing room every single day, but he’s really stepping up to the plate right now.”

TRENDS:

* Stars are 4-1 in their last 5 after allowing 5 goals or more in their previous game.
* Blues are 17-7 in their last 24 games following a win.
* Over is 5-0-1 in Stars last 6 games playing on 1 days rest.
* Under is 6-1-1 in Blues last 8 vs. a team with a winning % above .600.
* Stars are 2-8 in the last 10 meetings.

San Jose Sharks at Nashville Predators (A: -105, H: -115, O/U: 5)

Sharks lead series 2-1

The San Jose Sharks will look to rebound from their first road loss of the postseason when they visit the Nashville Predators on Thursday night in Game 4 of their second-round series. The Predators bounced back from a pair of losses in San Jose with a 4-1 victory in Game 3, handing the Sharks their first defeat on the road since March 17.

“You’re not going to win every game,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer told reporters after Tuesday’s loss. “It’s the Stanley Cup playoffs. This might take seven games.” The Sharks posted an NHL-best 28-10-3 record away from home in the regular season and had won all three road games in Los Angeles in the first round. Nashville erupted for its highest output of the postseason by cranking up a power play that was 2-for-31 through nine playoff games before converting on 2-of-5 opportunities in Game 3. “The biggest thing for us is staying out of the box and staying disciplined, but when we do get called upon, we’ve got to make a difference,” Predators captain Shea Weber told reporters.

TV: 9 p.m. ET, CNBC, Sportsnet, TVAS 2

PROBABLE GOALIES:

Sharks – Martin Jones (W/L: 6-2, GAA: 2.36, SAVE %: .917)

Predators – Pekka Rinne (W/L: 5-5, GAA: 2.33, SAVE % .909)     

MATCHUP CHART:

ABOUT THE SHARKS (52-31-7, 42-48 ATS, 45-35 O/U): San Jose has been dominant with the man advantage, scoring eight power-play goals in its first seven playoff games and burning Nashville on 3-of-5 chances in Games 1 and 2 before it failed on four chances in Tuesday’s setback. “We had a couple different looks, but it definitely could have been better,” said captain Joe Pavelski, who has six goals in the postseason. “They were better on their penalty kill, which we expected, and we need to step up our game.” Veteran Patrick Marleau tallied in Game 3, his 11th goal in 13 playoff games versus Nashville.

ABOUT THE PREDATORS (46-32-14, 40-52 ATS, 35-36 O/U): One of the huge storylines for Nashville entering Game 3 was coach Peter Laviolette’s decision to hold out veteran Mike Ribeiro, who had accounted for only one assist in the playoffs following a 50-point regular season. “He’s been a great player for us the last couple of years, and it’s just a signal for all of us,” Predators goalie Pekka Rinne said of Ribeiro, who sat in favor of rookie Pontus Aberg. “We all have to step up.” One of the players who continues to step up is forward Colin Wilson, who established a franchise record with five goals in a playoff series a year ago and has dimmed the memory of his dismal six-goal regular season with three tallies and five assists in the postseason.

TRENDS:

* Sharks are 1-5 in their last 6 Thursday games.
* Predators are 1-4 in their last 5 Conference Semifinals games.
* Under is 8-2-2 in Sharks last 12 road games.
* Under is 3-0-2 in Predators last 5 when their opponent scores 2 goals or less in their previous game.
* Sharks are 1-7 in the last 8 meetings in Nashville.

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