The Stanley Cup playoffs are finally here!
The best and most gruelling tournament in all of professional sports gets underway tonight with the opening of 3 first-round series. The Flyers/Penguins and Wild/Jets will get things started in early action, and the Kings and Golden Knights will provide the nightcap in the first-ever playoff game contested in Las Vegas.
In case you’re wondering, the Predators enter the Stanley Cup tournament as the clear favorites, paying less than +400 at most betting sites. Tampa is a slight favorite over Boston to come out of the East, while the two-time defending champion Penguins are a distant +1112 on Pinnacle’s Stanley Cup futures odds.
Before we get into the playoff breakdowns, a quick recap of the regular season:
Our posted plays record finished at 151-130 for +14 units. It’s a disappointing final result when you consider we were at +26 units in early March, but 14 units of profit on 313 bets (including pushes) is still a healthy +4.5% return on total investment and a result we have to be happy with. That said, considering March was our only losing month in each of the past 2 seasons, we clearly need to re-evaluate how we handicap hockey down the stretch.
Alright, onto the playoffs, where you’ve got to take a different approach from capping regular season games. Teams obviously aren’t lacking motivation, each has similar fatigue spots (other than when a new series begins) and there won’t be any 3 games in 4 days or 4 in 6 or 6 in 9 situations anymore. Games are also typically tighter (2 of the 3 totals tonight are 5.5 goals, and the Over/Under of 6 in Pittsburgh/Philly is juiced to the Under) and a lot of games are decided in OT.
Rather than post Game 1 plays, we thought it might be more useful to break down each of the series that starts tonight and recommend angles that you might want to use when betting on the series in general. We’ll do the same tomorrow for the other 5 series that get underway.
Good luck, and enjoy the Stanley Cup playoffs!
Odds below are at the time we made the pick. Be sure to check out our live odds page for updated odds on today’s games.
Although these teams were separated by just 2 points over the 82-game regular season, oddsmakers are pricing this series as a mismatch. Other than the two series involving #1 vs #8 seeds (and now the Jets, who had moved to -227 favorites over Minnesota at the time of writing), the Penguins are the biggest chalk of Round 1.
We’re not big believers in the Flyers, but it’s also hard to lay this series price with Pittsburgh, two-time defending champions or not. Although the Penguins have a huge advantage in goal on paper, the Pens have still had a tough time keeping the puck out of their net of late, allowing 3 goals or more in 10 of their last 12 games. That could spell some trouble against a Flyers squad whose offense was firing on all cylinders down the stretch of the campaign, potting 4+ goals in 9 of its last 11 outings.
Pittsburgh likely wins this series, and if you want to avoid laying -224 on the series price, Pittsburgh -1.5 on the series handicap (meaning the Pens need to win in 6 games or less) is available at -105 at Pinnacle and -108 at 5Dimes. Personally, we’re more interested in backing the Flyers Team Total Overs (especially in Pittsburgh, where the prices on Over 2.5 will typically be around even money) or full-game Overs in this series until the Pens prove they can shut this Flyers offense down. Pittsburgh shouldn’t have any issues solving Brian Elliott in the Philly cage.
Of all the Round 1 series in the NHL playoffs, this may be the one in which home ice advantage means the most. The only team to suffer less regulation time losses at home this season than Winnipeg was the Wild, which earned at least a point in 35 of its 41 contests at Xcel Energy Center.
The Jets still have distinct advantages in this series because A) they’re the better team with more depth, especially after the Ryan Suter injury, and B) they have the extra home game. But how many games are they going to be able to steal in Minnesota? We don’t see them winning more than 1 in Minny, which is the only way that this series goes less than 6 games. And if the Wild is able to steal a game in Winnipeg, the chances of this series going the distance suddenly look pretty likely as well.
Bruce Boudreau’s history of playoff chokes aside (his teams have made it to the 3rd round just once in 10 career postseason appearances), the Wild has a lot more playoff experience on its roster than a Winnipeg team making its first trip to the playoffs since 2014. There’s also a ton of pressure on the young Jets, especially considering that this franchise hasn’t won a playoff game since it was founded in Atlanta in 1999. The Jets’ previous days as the Thrashers obviously aren’t relevant to this year’s roster, but it’s a narrative that will soon be widespread if Winnipeg gets off to a tough start in this series.
Our hearts are with Winnipeg here, but we don’t expect it to be easy. With the Wild as such big underdogs in this matchup, we actually like Minnesota +1.5 games on the series handicap (-118 odds at Pinnacle and 5Dimes). The Wild’s dominance on home ice makes them a threat to push this series to 7 games, if not pull off the outright upset themselves.
Another way to bet this series may be backing the Over in games played in Winnipeg and Under in games played in Minnesota. That may sound a bit simplistic, but both the Jets and Wild have been good at dictating their preferred style of play when in their home rinks, and the numbers back that up. Winnipeg has averaged nearly 4 goals per game on home ice this year, a big reason why the Jets have gone 24-15 Over-Under at home, while the Wild’s defense has struggled (3.41 goals per game allowed) and Minnesota went 23-15 to the Over on the road. When in Minnesota, however, the Wild allowed an average of 2.17 goals per contest. Meanwhile, the Jets’ offense often fizzled on the road this year, leading to a 17-24 Over-Under mark away from Winnipeg.
Think the Golden Knights have their hands full in this series? Join the club. Pretty much everyone seems to be liking the Kings to pull off the upset, thanks in large part to LA’s past playoff success and the fact that Vegas is making its first postseason appearance in franchise history. LA also went 2-0-1 against Vegas in the 3 meetings between the clubs after Christmas, including sweeping a back-to-back in late February.
But are the Kings really a great value at the current series price? At only +112 odds, the 7th-seeded Kings are just slightly behind the Blue Jackets and Sharks as the smallest series underdogs in Round 1, and Columbus and San Jose are going up against teams that finished a collective 9 points ahead of them in the standings. LA, by contrast, finished 11 points behind Vegas.
Then again, home-ice advantage may not be that big of a factor in this series (LA and Vegas each won 22 road games this year, tied for the third-most in the league), and the pressure is on the Golden Knights to follow up their stellar regular season with playoff success. Ultimately, we won’t be surprised at all if the Kings pull off the upset, but just don’t think +112 odds are quite worthy of a wager on LA. Instead, a better approach may be waiting to see if the Golden Knights take Game 1, which would open up a bigger underdog series price on the Kings. (If Kings series moneyline is still the way you want to go, Bovada and Bodog were offering +120 on LA as of Wednesday morning.)
Another betting angle to exploit in this series could be first period moneylines and live betting. LA’s goal differential in first periods this season was -27, and the Kings’ 52 goals in the opening frame were the third-fewest in the league. However, LA more than made up for its slow starts by dominating third periods to the tune of a 97-58 count, the best third-period differential in the NHL. Vegas, by comparison, outscored opponents 47-33 in first periods at home this year, but was just +6 in third periods overall on the season.
If each team’s regular-season tendencies follow them into the playoffs, betting Vegas first period moneylines at home should be a profitable strategy. And if you’re thinking of betting on the Kings, you may want to wait until the second or even third period to invest, especially if you can catch better odds on them when they’re trailing the score.
Sign up below to get our daily NHL tips sent to your email the minute we post. That way, you will always get the best odds on each game…