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Handicapping the Final Few Games of the NHL Regular Season

Betting on the NHL in the final week of the regular season can sometimes be an ill-advised adventure and it’s one littered with hidden landmines. Coaches give AHL goalies you’ve never heard of surprise starts and superstars get scratched – sometimes minutes before puck drop. Almost every team has differing motivation down the stretch and sportsbook lines are not to be trusted.

So, how should we go about betting the last few games of the NHL’s regular slate? Very cautiously. Wait as late as you can to place a wager, unless there’s a line that you know will move in the wrong direction if you wait, and monitor injury reports and Twitter closely.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is whether or not a team has clinched. If they have, and they have nothing left to play for, they’re more likely to bench stars and give their No. 1 netminder some rest. This year’s Minnesota Wild team is one of the best examples of this. They’ve had a playoff spot locked up for quite some time and with Devan Dubnyk struggling after a heavy workload this season, Minny brass decided to call up Alex Stalock to give their starting goalie some recuperation time.

With that information, you’re probably thinking I’m telling you to fade the team that’s clinched but it’s not that simple. These can be trap games as goal-stoppers being called up from the AHL are normally auditioning for future jobs in the big show and while they normally crap their pants under the pressure, every once in a while, they play lights out like Stalock (.944 save percentage) has since his call-up. This makes moneyline betting extremely difficult and I tend to avoid it entirely in the dwindling daylight of the regular season.

What I do recommend, however, is to bet the OVER – freely.

Last season, the OVER went 27-18-3 in games where at least one team had three or fewer games remaining on its schedule. Not too bad. What I attribute mostly to the tendency for late-season games to go OVER their total is teams resting top-four blue-liners and we've already seen more than enough incidences of that this year.

Take the Montreal Canadiens, for example. The Habs recently clinched the Atlantic Division and really have nothing left to play for. They currently have scrappy D-men Shea Weber and Jordie Benn both listed as questionable with various bumps and bruises and if they are indeed scratched on a given night, whichever team they’re playing that evening will have a much freer path to the Habs net, resulting in more scoring chances and can you guess what else? Yup, more goals.

To recap, check to make sure how intact a team’s blue line is and wait until at least a half-hour before puck drop to make your wager once you’ve picked a spot. If some key guys are missing and a backup goalie – or two – is playing, pound the OVER.

Keep these things at the front of your mind when browsing your sportsbooks and your Twitter timeline and you should be able to stay whole and boost your bankroll heading into the postseason.

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