The Eastern Conference powerhouse Boston Bruins host cellar dwellers, the Carolina Hurricanes, in a Thursday night showdown at the Garden. With the sportsbook odds makers all over Boston, will we be forced to lay the heavy chalk?

The Boston Bruins enter tonight's game as a -275 NHL odds favorite, a line that has risen from the opening line of -270. Eventhough the Canes' have topped the Bruins in all three of their meetings this season, sportsbook odds makers appear confident that the Bruins will skate away with the "W" tonight. 

Lets breakdown this matchup and determine where we should place our NHL picks tonight to find the best value, or will we be forced to lay the heavy lumber at -270? 

Carolina Hurricanes (18-25-9)

Cam WardIf there has been any bright spot for the Carolina Hurricanes it has been the resurgence of their ironman in the net, Cam Ward. Ward uncharacteristically started the season by allowing three goals or more in 23 of his first 35 starts which manifested in some alarming stats for the topnotch tender. As of January 3rd the Hurricanes goaltender had a record of 13-15-6 with a 3.22 goals against average and a .897 save percentage. 

However, since the New Year Ward has returned to form. Before his last game, a 5-2 loss to the Islanders on Tuesday night, Ward went 4-2-1 with 1.56 goals against and a brilliant .952 save percentage. The Hurricanes desperately need their former All-Star and Stanley Cup champion to continue his backstopping prowess if they are to have any chance of playing past their final regular season game.

Offensively the Canes don’t have much to crow about. Eric Staal is their statistical leader (11-26-37) but his -26 in the all important plus minus category cancels out any good he is doing in his opponents’ end. Collectively the team has the second worst +/- in the league at -32 and simply don’t have the firepower to outgun their opponents. The key to any success this Carolina team will have this season rests with Cam Ward and his defensive corps.

Boston Bruins (32-14-2)

Tim ThomasThough this appears to be a mismatch on paper between the Boston Bruins and the Carolina Hurricanes, it may surprise you to note that Carolina has won all three meetings between the two clubs this season. They last faced off on January 14th where the Canes notched a 4-2 victory over the visiting Bruins as they trafficked in front of Tim Thomas’s net and simply dumped everything on goal. It wasn’t pretty but it was effective as they added an empty netter at the end of the game. 

After a blistering November and December, the Bruins have returned to Earth with an 8-4-1 mark during the month of January. Though their offense continues to click on all cylinders, ranked 1st in the league averaging 3.5 goals per game, their defense has strayed from its core.

Tim Thomas and his outstanding understudy Tuukka Rask continue to be solid but their defensive corps has lapsed. The Bruins have fallen from the top spot in goals allowed to the 4th ranked team averaging 2.2 goals allowed per game. 

The B’s came from behind when they scored three unanswered goals against the Ottawa Senators to claim a 4-3 victory in regulation on Tuesday night. Boston will see their veteran defenseman Andrew Ference return from suspension after a three game involuntary absence. However, goal scorer Nathan Horton is still suffering from concussion like symptoms and will probably sit out the contest.

Analysis:

Certainly on paper this game looks like a mismatch but then again so did their last meeting in January when Boston dropped a 4-2 decision as -225 sports betting favorites in Carolina. When the teams met in Boston last October, Carolina was outshot 34-23 but won the game 4-1 when the Bruins racked up 70 penalty minutes and were forced to deal with several 5 on 3’s down the stretch.

Tonight will feature a Bruins club that has returned to Stanley Cup form since their bumpy beginning in October when last they hosted the Hurricanes. I cannot envision the Bruins taking Carolina lightly and do not believe that their recent past history will do anything more than inspire the better team to avenge those losses.

Play the Bruins but be prepared to lay the heavy lumber -260.