The Stanley Cup playoffs got underway yesterday with a bang, especially in Pittsburgh as the two-time defending champion Penguins delivered a 7-0 whipping of their in-state rivals.
Elsewhere, both the Winnipeg Jets (the second edition of the Jets, at least) and Vegas Golden Knights earned their first-ever playoff victories as each prevailed on home ice. Winnipeg showed a lot of poise in overcoming a 2-1 deficit in the third period, outshooting the Wild 19-4 in the final frame and 40-20 on the evening. Meanwhile, the Knights jumped out to an early first-period lead over the Kings and made it stand up in a 1-0 triumph.
After breaking down each of the first 3 series yesterday, we’ve gone with a similar approach for the 5 series that start tonight. We personally often like to wait to see what happens in the first games of series (especially in Round 1) before wagering on individual games, so we thought we’d share some opinions on ways to attack these series in general instead.
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.
This series is the second-biggest mismatch of Round 1, at least according to the betting odds. Even though New Jersey finished the regular season with a 7-1-1 push while the Lightning stumbled to the finish line with 5 losses in their last 8 games (even with first place in the Atlantic at stake), not many people are even willing to consider the Devils’ chances of an upset.
We do, however, think New Jersey can put up a bit of a fight. All the pressure in this series is squarely on Tampa to pull out of its late-season swoon and live up to preseason expectations, while the Devils are obviously playing with house money. New Jersey also doesn’t seem intimidated by the Bolts, having won 4 of the last 5 meetings including a 4-3 win at Tampa in February.
In order for New Jersey to be competitive in this series, the Devils are going to have to score goals. We certainly know Tampa is going to get theirs, averaging 3.54 goals per game both at home and on the road this season. Fortunately for New Jersey, the defensive zone is where the Lightning struggled the most down the stretch, allowing 3+ goals in 6 of its last 7 games and 17 of its final 22.
Overs in this series is something we recommend targeting, especially with lower totals in the playoffs. The Over/Under for Game 1 has been set at 5.5, just the second Tampa game in the last 2 months to have a total lower than 6. It’s also worth noting that the second period was the highest-scoring frame (goals for and goals against combined) for both teams this season, something you might be able to exploit via live betting in this series.
This series is the toughest of Round 1 to predict in our opinion. There’s a lot to like about both teams, and Boston deserves to be favored in this range due to its superior regular season and the fact that it has home-ice advantage.
For what it’s worth, Toronto’s gotten the better of the Bruins over the past 2 years, winning 7 of the last 8 meetings (including 3 of 4 trips to Boston). Recent meetings have also tended to be lower-scoring, with just 2 of those 8 clashes going Over the total.
One betting prop that caught our eye here was the Over/Under for games in the series. BetOnline currently has Over 6 games at +105 odds (the only way you lose this wager is if there’s a sweep or a 5-game series), and you can also get +200 return on the series going 7.
Even though the Capitals won the Metropolitan Division for the third straight year, we haven’t bought into this Washington team all season. They’re nowhere near as strong defensively as they used to be (15th in goals against this year, compared to 1st and 2nd the previous 2 seasons), and we expect that to be their undoing against the Blue Jackets’ red-hot offense.
Columbus has fired a ton of pucks at opposing goalies all year, ranking 5th in the NHL in Corsi For and 9th in Corsi %. Although the Jackets struggled to convert many of those shots into goals during the first half of the season, they were finally rewarded for their persistence down the stretch, potting 3+ goals in 14 of their final 17 games (and 4+ in 8 of their last 11). Meanwhile, Washington was in the bottom quarter of the league when it came to shot suppression and finished with the third-worst Corsi % of all playoff teams.
The Blue Jackets also have a clear advantage in net, rolling with Sergei Bobrovsky while the Capitals have replaced Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as their #1 guy going into the playoffs. Throw in Washington’s horrible playoff history, and Blue Jackets +110 is our favorite first-round series bet of the playoffs.
The Avalanche qualifying for the playoffs one year after finishing 21 points behind everyone in the league rivals Vegas’ success as the feel-good story of the season. Unfortunately for Colorado, its reward for getting into the Stanley Cup tournament is a Round 1 meeting with the Cup favorite Predators, and it seems like the worst possible matchup for the Avs.
Not only has Nashville won 10 straight meetings with the Avalanche, the Preds have also scored 4+ goals in 9 of those 10 outings. The Semyon Varlamov injury means that Jonathan Bernier has to play net for the Avs in this series, and while Bernier had a nice bounceback year this season, he regressed a bit down the stretch and isn’t the kind of guy who can steal you a couple of wins in one of the toughest buildings in the league.
And we haven’t even touched on the experience factor. Nothing’s going to faze the Predators after their run to the Cup final last year, while the Avs could easily be overwhelmed by their first foray into the playoff spotlight since 2014 and second since 2010. Meanwhile, Bernier is making just his second career postseason start tonight.
Understandably, there’s no value in the Predators series moneyline, and even a -2.5 game handicap on Nashville (meaning the Preds need to win in 5 games or less) pays just +125 odds at BetOnline. A better way to bet this series might be to look to back Nashville Team Total Overs, even if the Over 3.5 goals only pays even money for tonight’s Game 1 at Pinnacle.
Oddsmakers are projecting this series to be a defensive chess match, with Game 1 being the first game of the playoffs to feature a total of 5 (though there is -130 juice on the Over). That certainly lines up with the way these teams have played each other in the past (just 1 of the last 10 meetings have gone Over) and with their season-long numbers (Anaheim was 49-32 to the Under this year), but we’re not sure it reflects the reality of the way San Jose has played lately.
Especially when the Sharks are on the road, when they seem to play a completely different style from what we’re accustomed to seeing from San Jose. If you include overtime markers, the Sharks have allowed at least 3 goals in 10 straight road games, something that should concern them going into a series in which they don’t have home-ice advantage. And although Anaheim isn’t exactly known for lighting up the scoreboard, the Ducks did average more than 3 goals per game this season at home, reaching that mark in 10 of their last 12 at The Pond.
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