Ice picks: Monday's best NHL bets

Mar 24, 2008 |
By: Associated Press

Minnesota at Edmonton (+110, 5)

The Edmonton Oilers are playing their most consistent hockey of the season - they just hope they have enough time to claim a playoff spot.

The Oilers will be trying to inch closer to postseason position on Monday when they host the Northwest Division-leading Minnesota Wild.

Edmonton (38-33-5) has won 11 of its last 14 games, including Saturday's 7-5 victory over Colorado. The Oilers are in last place in the Northwest, but have moved within three points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Sam Gagner scored twice on Saturday as Edmonton won despite blowing a three-goal lead heading into the third period.

"I'm down to my last nerve,'' coach Craig MacTavish said. "It wasn't easy. It should have been a lot easier than it was. We had a great start and then we lacked a little composure in those key situations. Perhaps the youthfulness comes into play. The good thing is that we are getting the experience and still winning the games.''

The Oilers scored at least seven goals for the second time in three games, including an 8-4 win over Phoenix on Tuesday, and bounced back from Thursday's 4-1 loss to Vancouver. Not counting shootout goals, Edmonton has averaged 3.57 goals during its 14-game run.

For the season, the Oilers are scoring just 2.68 goals per game.

"We had two great periods, scored a lot of goals and then the first 10 of the third they scored three right away and had the momentum," Marc Pouliot, who had a goal and an assist, told the Oilers' official team Web site. "It was a high scoring game, but we'll take it for sure."

Pick: Oilers

Ottawa at Montreal (-135, 6)

The Montreal Canadiens have been dominated virtually all season when they've faced the Ottawa Senators.

But the Senators would gladly trade that success for the Canadiens' spot in the Northeast Division.

Montreal looks to move one step closer to its first division title since 1991-92 when it hosts second-place Ottawa on Monday.

The competition between the Eastern Conference-leading Canadiens (42-24-10) and the Senators (41-27-7) has been extremely tight at the top of the division over the past few months, with Montreal's current five-point lead its largest advantage of the season.

But when the teams have faced each other on the ice, it's been Ottawa that has enjoyed a decided advantage. The Senators have won five of the six meetings this season and eight of the last nine overall. They've outscored the Canadiens 9-1 in their two most recent games, including a 3-0 victory at the Bell Centre on March 13.

That victory was the Senators' third straight and tied the teams atop the division, but Ottawa has since lost two of three while Montreal has gone 3-0-1.

The Senators held a 4-3 lead at home against Toronto on Saturday night heading into the third period, but gave up two goals in 41 seconds on their way to a 5-4 loss.

"We know we can play better," said Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, who scored his 38th goal. "If we want to win down the stretch and in the playoffs we can't give up goals like that."

The line of Spezza centering Alfredsson and Dany Heatley has been the NHL's most productive this season, combining for 106 goals. But the trio hasn't played any better than when they've faced the Canadiens.

Spezza has seven goals, Alfredsson four and Heatley three against Montreal in only five games apiece, and they've combined for 36 points.

"They're probably one of the best lines in the NHL," Canadiens goaltender Carey Price said after watching that line score every Senators goal in a 6-1 loss on Feb. 9.

Price has lost both of his starts against Ottawa this season, but the rookie has been playing well lately as Montreal has taken control of the division. He's 4-2-0 with a 1.97 goals-against average in his last six starts.

The comfort of home ice has made a big difference recently for Price. He's 4-1-0 with a 1.38 GAA in his last five starts in Montreal, compared to 2-2-0 with a 3.26 GAA in four road starts this month.

Pick: Senators

Check out yesterday's Ice Picks here.

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