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NFL DRAFT PROPS FROM OLYMPIC:

Olympic Sportsbook is offering a variety of prop bets on the 1st round of Saturday's NFL draft. One involves the number of players chosen from USC, with an OV/UN of 4 Trojans going in the first round. The UNDER -130 looks like the right side here. Clearly, two Trojans will be chosen in the first round with the first few selections: QB Matt Leinart is projected to go as high as #3, and running back Reggie Bush is a virtual lock to be the first player selected overall. After that, things aren't quite so clear. Most experts project that DT Winston Justice will go as high as #10. Earlier this year, running back LenDale White was a very likely first round pick. Following the revelation of a partial hamstring tear, along with some questions about his conditioning and speed, his stock has dropped substantially. He'll probably be the fourth USC player chosen overall, but I have my doubts that any GM will be anxious to expend a first round pick on potentially "damaged goods". Right now his "best case scenario" is a very late first round choice (27th or later) or more likely an early 2nd round choice. By my projections, the outcome of the bet will depend on where White ends up being selected but that means that "worst case scenario" for the UNDER 4 play is a push with a strong likelihood of a win if White slips to the second round.

If you don't mind laying a little chalk, another strong play could be on the number of Wide Receivers/Tight Ends selected in the first round. Olympic has the O/U set at 5, and the UNDER -200 looks to be the right side here. There's been much written in the sporting media in advance of the draft about the dearth of top WR in this year's class, and there's only a couple of tight ends of interest as well. Florida's Chad Jackson is projected by most experts as the first WR to be selected, but he's unlikely to be chosen higher than 10th. There's a chance that a tight end will be selected before Jackson--most likely Maryland's Vernon Davis--but that's not a certainty. He's projected as high as a top five pick by some writers, and not being selected at all in the first round by others. My thinking is that he'll probably be a first round pick, due as much to the importance of the tight end in the NFL game as anything else. Still, it's hard to project more than 5 TE/WR being taken in the first round. More likely is 3 or 4, and possibly as few as 2 (Davis and Jackson). In any case, this looks like another play that should cash easily with the likely "downside risk" being 5 selected for a push.

NHL STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF THOUGHTS:

In the pre-lockout NHL, betting playoff games UNDER was one of the easiest plays a sports bettor would ever find. It wasn't uncommon to see games go scoreless and regulation to be decided in one (or more) OT sessions for a 1-0 game and an easy UNDER. In the "new" NHL, that's no longer the case. I wrote an article earlier this year about the scoring stats resulting from the NHL rule changes, and the bottom line was that while even strength scoring was essentially unchanged the number of penalties called and resulting power play goals had skyrocketed. Heading into the playoffs, there was a lot of concern that as in the past NHL refs would "swallow their whistle" and call very few penalties.

That concern was addressed emphatically by NHL President Gary Bettman, who indicated in the strongest possible terms that he expected the same "zero tolerance" policy toward penalties exhibited in the regular season to continue into the playoffs. Bettman said that refs that didn't call enough penalties might be "benched" for subsequent playoff games. The refs have complied, and the resulting goal totals have reflected that fact: through Monday night there have been sixteen playoff games, with 9 OVER, 6 UNDER and 1 PUSH. Play may tighten up as the playoffs progress, but based on Bettman's insistence that the same vigilance by officials reign during the postseason as during the regular campaign I don't expect goal totals to change much. I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that the OVER is an "automatic play" by any means, but I definitely wouldn't be hesitant to take this position in a playoff game. That wasn't the case in prior years, where it was very difficult to make a case for the OVER in any postseason game. In particular, I expect teams that played a lot of OVER games during the regular season--like Carolina and Colorado--to continue their high scoring ways during the postseason. We cashed an easy OVER 6 tonight on the Carolina/Montreal game (11 total goals scored) and we'll be looking for other opportunities to go against the historic public perception during the playoffs going forward.

STANLEY CUP CONTENDERS AND PRETENDERS:

Finally, lets look at some potential Stanley Cup contenders that could be flying "beneath the radar" in the early going. New Jersey has always been a postseason threat, but in their first two games against the New York Rangers they've turned it up a notch. The Rangers showed marked improvement this year thanks to solid goaltending and improved defensive play, but they've been an open book for the Devils so far losing games 1 & 2 by a combined score of 10-2. Delicate forward Jaromir Jagr is hurting for the Broadway Blueshirts, and they've got goaltending concerns as well. Henrick Lundqvist was a sieve in game 1, and was benched for game 2 in favor of Kevin Weekes. Weekes didn't do much better, allowing four goals in an easy New Jersey win. As far as the Devils are concerned, its postseason business as usual for them with Martin Broduer solid in net.

Out west, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks could be a surprise. They've got a tough first round matchup against Calgary, but they've got a nice mix of youth with playoff tested, veteran leadership provided by defenseman Scott Neidermayer and forward Teemu Selanne. Goaltender Jean-Sebastian Giguere has been solid in net, and throughout has career has gone through insane streaks where you just can't get a puck past him. If that happens again this year with a more complete team in front of him, the Ducks could be around for awhile.

Now, the pretenders: you can't talk playoff pretenders without mentioning the Ottawa Senators. The Sens are basically the 1990's Utah Jazz on ice, annually tearing it up during the regular season and disappointing during the playoffs. This year they've got a particularly nasty first round draw against a scrappy Tampa Bay Lightning team that may be gelling at the right time. The 'bolts are also the defending Stanley Cup champions and won't go down easily. It could be another early exit for the Sens.

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