The NHL showcases some of the best in the league on Thursday, Jan. 17. Three of the matches will be broadcast on television: Chicago Blackhawks-New York Rangers on NBC Sports Network, Toronto-Tampa Bay on ESPN+ and Winnipeg-Nashville also on ESPN+, and I have a breakdown of my favorite NHL free picks for the evening’s action.

Of the three games, Maples Leafs-Lightning’s the top game. Toronto and Tampa Bay have battled each other all season for Stanley Cup favoritism and the Atlantic Division lead. The Maple Leafs have been cold in recent games. You don’t want to take on the best team in NHL having gone 1-3 in the last 4. That’s the situation for Toronto.

In Thursday night’s co-main event, Nashville hosts Winnipeg. Like Toronto and Tampa battling it out in the Atlantic, the Predators and Jets are fighting for the Central. Winnipeg got past Vegas on Jan. 15. They start a brutal 4-game road trip versus Nashville on Jan. 17.

The final televised match has Chicago battling the Rangers in the Garden. Both the Blackhawks and Rangers are under .500. Neither should make the playoffs, but this is one of those classic cross-conference rivalries that should be as hard fought as any matchup in the NHL.

The other two games analyzed here are St. Louis-Boston, and Anaheim-Minnesota. The Blues have surged in the last week. Can they get by the Bruins? Anaheim’s been the worst team in NHL for about a month. Do they have any shot versus the Wild?

[Thursday, Jan. 17]

St. Louis Blues +150 at Boston Bruins -185

Two fairly hot teams hit the ice in Boston on Jan. 17. St. Louis has won 3-of-4. Boston has won 6-of-8 with a battle on the road against Philadelphia on Jan. 16. The key in this matchup will be how the Bruins manage a back-to-back, and how well St. Louis handles their third game in 4 days.

The most important trends in regards to that is Boston going 5-1 in their last 6 playing on 0 days of rest and the Blues going 1-9 in their last 10 3-in-4 situations. Boston might go off at much worse odds than -177. They’ll still be the play.

NHL Free Picks: Bruins -185

Chicago Blackhawks +110 at New York Rangers -134

At first glance, it looks like the Blackhawks have no shot in this. Chicago is 1-6 on the moneyline in their last 7. But, a closer look reveals a couple of things that point to Chicago pulling off the upset.

The Blackhawks were no less than +139 dogs in every one of those matches. Not only that, but they lost two of the games, to Nashville and Vegas, in overtime. Chicago’s also 4-0 SU in the last 4 meetings at the Garden. The dog should have some bite.

NHL Free Picks: Blackhawks +110

Toronto Maple Leafs +125 at Tampa Bay Lightning -155

Thursday’s marquee matchup pits the top two teams in the Atlantic Division against each other. The Lightning have gone 4-1 in their last 5. Toronto’s a less impressive 1-3 in their last 4.

In the head-to-head, Tampa takes this. The Leafs are 2-8 in the last 10 meetings in Tampa Bay and 1-5 in the last 6. Also, the home team is 4-0 in the series. Toronto has yet to prove that they’re on Tampa’s level, even though they are clearly the two best team in the conference. This is as good of a home price as you’re ever going to get on the Lightning. Tampa all the way.

NHL Free Picks: Lightning -155

Winnipeg Jets +115 at Nashville Predators -145

Based on Winnipeg’s and Nashville’s records, their matchup should be one of the most competitive games this week. Hot trends abound for both teams but here’s something that’s interesting: the Predators are 1-6 in their last 7 Thursday games. It’s a very strange trend to bet on, but it definitely hangs over this ultra competitive matchup. Winnipeg is a great team that’s worth the gamble on the road, even against the Predators.

NHL Free Picks : Jets +115

Anaheim Ducks +135 at Minnesota Wild -170

It’s surprising that Minnesota’s only favored by this much as they prepare to host the worst team in the NHL. Anaheim’s so bad they lost to Ottawa on Jan. 9. They have no shot against a tough Minnesota squad on the road, right?

Not so fast. Before dumping your home’s equity line on the Wild, consider how Anaheim lost in overtime to Winnipeg only 2 games ago. Also consider that the Ducks are 8-2 SU in the last 10 in Minnesota and 14-6 SU in the last 20 meetings.

The Ducks’ awful losing streak of 12 games will eventually end. It could end on Thursday night.

NHL Free Picks : Ducks +135