The 2012 pro hockey playoffs begin this season with Vancouver a heavy +200 favorite to make it all the way to the finals in Pro Hockey betting.  Vancouver brings a veteran squad, along with a well-rested goalie, to this year's playoff party.  But they're not the only team that online betting handicappers are looking to in the futures.

St. Louis is a well-backed +350 in the futures to take home the trophy in the Western Conference while Nashville at +525 and Detroit at +550 are also garnering support.  See below for free picks for Game 2 of each series as well as picks to win the Western Conference.

 

NHL - Western Conference

 

Game 2

 

Detroit Red Wings at Nashville Predators

When:  April 12, 2012 at 7:30 pm EST

Predicted Odds:  Nashville -125, Total 5

This figures to be a hotly contested first round series between two very good teams.  Nashville GM David Poile made a big statement by luring back Alexander Radulov from Russia and adding defenseman Hal Gill and forwards Paul Gaustad and Andrei Kostitsyn, all for this playoff run.  Both teams bring great goalies to the series, but Nashville's Pekka Rinne, who played in 73 games during the regular season, might win the Vezina trophy this season.  Rinne led the league with 43 victories.  Nashville's power play is excellent at 21.6% while Detroit's penalty kill is only average, ranked 18th in the NHL.  Although hockey odds handicappers like Detroit in Game 1, 51% to 49% for Nashville, my gut tells me that the Predators are ready to do a number on the Red Wings in Game 2.  Nashville is a tough place to play and the Red Wings weren't exactly a stellar road team during the regular season.  31 of Detroit's 48 total victories came at home.  I like Nashville.

Pick:  Nashville Predators

 

Los Angeles Kings at Vancouver Canucks

When:  April 13, 2012 at 10:00 pm EST

Predicted Odds:  Vancouver -170, Total 5

Vancouver isn't going to just walk all over the Kings in this first round series.  The Canucks are deeper, they added Dale Weiss, Zack Kassian, David Booth, Samuel Pahlsson and Marc-Andre Gragnani from last season's run, and Vancouver did produce the best overall record in the league this season, but the Kings are solid.  L.A.'s D allowed only 2.07 goals per season.  Their goal-tender, Jonathan Quick, is terrific.  Not only that, but the King's 29th ranked offense scored 54 goals in 18 games from March to April, an average of 3 per game, meaning that they've found the net.  I believe that the Canucks will be a serious underlay in Game 2 of this series.  I'm going to back the dog.   

Pick:  Los Angeles Kings

 

San Jose Sharks at St. Louis Blues

When:  April 14, 2012 at 7:30 pm EST

Predicted Odds:  St. Louis -155, Total 5

Although San Jose is the more experienced team, St. Louis has the best defense in the league.  The Blues' goalie tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot are shut down guys and St. Louis allows an awesome 26.7 shots on goal per game.  The Sharks, meanwhile, take 33.8 shots per game.  What will give in Game 2?  St. Louis' D could dominate the Sharks.  Not only that, but St. Louis' less than stellar offense, their top scorer, David Backers, is ranked 74th overall in the NHL scoring race, might get a boost in the power play since San Jose's penalty kill is ranked 29th in the league.  59% of my peers are all over the Blues in Game 1.  I'll be all over the Blues in Game 2.

Pick:  St. Louis Blues 

 

Chicago Blackhawks at Phoenix Coyotes

When:  April 14, 2012 at 10:00 pm EST

Predicted Odds:  Phoenix -120, Total 5

It looks like the Chicago Blackhawks have the Phoenix Coyotes over a barrel in this series.  Chicago is deeper and more talented.  Well, they're deeper and more talented according to almost every sportswriter in Canada and the United States.  I prefer to look at stats in order to find gems on which to bet and even though 55% of sports betting handicappers are all over the Blackhawks in Game 1 of this series, the stats I'm looking at tell me that Phoenix is a solid bet in Game 2 of the series.  The Coyotes goalie, Mike Smith, allowed only 2 goals in Phoenix's last 5 games.  Smith stopped 190 of 192 shots in those 5 games.  That's ultra-impressive.  Not only that, but Chicago is ranked 26th in the league on the power play, meaning that they most likely won't get to Smith even when they have an advantage, and 27th on the penalty kill, meaning that the Coyotes could find the net when they've got the advantage.  The real issue that Chicago will have in this series is that the 2010 Conn Smyth Trophy winner, Jonathan Toews, hasn't played since Feb. 19th because of a concussion.  Sure, he's cleared to play in the series, but he hasn't hit the ice in a long time.

Pick:  Phoenix Coyotes

 

Western Conference Futures Pick

 

Odds to win Western Conference

Chicago Blackhawks              +800
Detroit Red Wings                  +550
Los Angeles Kings                  +800
Nashville Predators                 +525
Phoenix Coyotes                     +1500
San Jose Sharks                       +700
St. Louis Blues                        +350
Vancouver Canucks                +200

 

The odds are too low on the Vancouver Canucks for me to back them to win the Western Conference.  Vancouver is fantastic, no doubt, and they definitely can win, but the fact that the only squad going off at double-digit odds, Phoenix is at +1500, should clue hockey gamblers to the fact that the race to the Western Conference trophy is wide open.

 

Top Pick:  Nashville Predators +525

I'm surprised that Nashville isn't the chalk to win the conference.  GM David Poile made big time moves for the playoff run and goaltender Pekka Rinne might be the best in the NHL.  Nashville is loaded and designed to win right now.  They only issue they might have is handling the pressure of winning right now, but I don't see it happening, not with Rinne in goal and their depth up front.

 

Second Pick:  St. Louis Blues +350

The best defensive team in the league should have no trouble dispatching of San Jose.  They're just too disciplined to make mistakes on the D side of things, but they will have to find offense some place.  Still, the odds aren't bad on a team that might average giving up a goal a game during the entire playoffs this season to just win their conference.

 

Best Underdog Pick:  Los Angeles Kings +800

The Kings' offense has gotten over the issues that plagued them earlier in the season and goal tender Jonathan Quick is as solid as there is in the net.  If the Kings' offense continues to play well, then they could score a quick series victory over Vancouver, allowing them plenty of time to rest up for round 2. 

 

Good luck!