I used to write these every spring over at Sons of the Spectrum and thankfully, the guys here at Pattison Ave are again letting me toss my hat into the ring of NHL playoff prognostication. While I’m not really a fan of the NHL’s new divisional playoff alignment, it does present a few new opportunities on the betting scene. There’s only one real underdog with value this year and a lot of the good bets are on the chalk side of the ledger. And since the playoffs start now, I’m going to shut down the bragging portion of this article (three Conn Smythe winners in a row!) and get right into the picks. (As usual, all odds from sportsbook.ag)
Philadelphia Flyers +260 vs Washington Capitals -320
Season Series: Tied 2-2
The underdog with value this year? That would be YOUR Philadelphia Flyers as they travel to DC to take on the President’s Trophy winners. Despite a 24-point gap in the standings, the Flyers have similar puck possession and goaltending numbers. In fact, in the last 25 games, the Flyers actually held a possession edge over the Caps (Score-adjusted Corsi: Flyers 52.7% vs Caps 51.5%). So why are the Flyers +260 here, which implies only a 28% chance of winning? Probably a combo of that 24-point gap in the standings, Braden Holtby’s Vezina season, and the Caps quick-strike trio of Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetzov. They also added playoff god Justin Williams in case they get to a Game 7. I wouldn’t bet this series if you like the Caps – I think they’ll win, but it won’t be easy and betting $320 to win $100 is NOT worth it.
PICK: CAPS IN 7
New York Rangers +150 vs Pittsburgh Penguins -185
Season Series: Rangers won 3 of 4
The Rangers have bounced the Pens out of the playoffs in each of the last two season and now it’s time for Pittsburgh to serve up some revenge. The Rangers are one of the worst teams in this year’s tournament: their score-adjusted Corsi pct of 48% was 9th worst in the league and 2nd worst among playoff teams. The Pens? Only 53.1%, good for 3rd in the NHL. And the disparity has been even bigger in the last 25 games. Now throw in a Ryan McDonagh injury and the Rangers should be the ones at +260, not the Flyers. Not even the King can save the Rangers in this series, Pittsburgh will roll through them like a brush fire during the Dust Bowl.
PICK: PENS IN 5
New York Islanders +130 vs Florida Panthers -155
Season Series: Panthers won 2 of 3
The Panthers rode great shooting and goaltending to a division title despite a 49.8% score-adjusted Corsi. But this Florida squad is a team on the rise for sure. Jonathan Huberdeau, Alex Barkov, Aaron Ekbald, Nick Bjugstad, and Vincent Trocheck give Florida an impressive core that’s young enough to be children of Jaromir Jagr. Oh, Florida still has him too. The Islanders were a bit of a disappointment despite a 100-point season. Their possession numbers cratered down the stretch (an ugly 46.5%) and starting goalie Jaroslav Halak won’t be in net to begin the series. Panthers are the weakest division champ, but they’ll get through the Islanders.
PICK: PANTHERS IN 6
Detroit Red Wings +130 vs Tampa Bay Lightning -155
Season Series: Tied 2-2
A healthy Lightning team needed seven games to dispatch the Red Wings last year and now they enter this series without Steven Stamkos or Anton Stralman. Ouch. Detroit catches a break here, being the playoff team in the East with the fewest points earned them a match-up with the East’s most banged-up team. But I still don’t think its enough. Ben Bishop is having a Vezina-caliber season and the Lightning still have loads of firepower without Stamkos and Stralman. The Wings played well down the stretch, but they lose both the possession and goaltending battle in this series. Going Bolts for the 2nd year in a row.
PICK: LIGHTNING IN 7
Minnesota Wild +250 vs Dallas Stars -300
Season Series: Stars won 3 of 4
This looks like a pretty big mismatch. Dallas has the recipe to be a contender for a while going forward – a pair of star forwards and a solid defense corps with a #1 guy. The goaltending sucks, but anyone can get hot during the playoffs (right Michael Leighton?). The Stars might be one of the more under-the-radar one seeds in recent memory and they have the easiest first round match-up in the West. Minnesota isn’t good and they’re missing Zach Parise. The only edge the Wild have is in goal but Devan Dubnyk won’t be mistaken for Henrik Lundqvist anytime soon. Don’t overthink this one, Dallas wins easily.
PICK: STARS IN 5
Chicago Blackhawks -105 vs St Louis Blues -115
Season Series: Blues won 3 of 5
It’s too easy to take Chicago here, right? The defending champs taking on one of their perennial doormats as an underdog seems too good to be true and like most things in life, I think it is. Chicago won’t have Duncan Keith in Game 1. They’ve gotten career years from Patrick Kane and Corey Crawford, but that’s hidden a slide in their possession metrics. Yes, getting 51.6% of the shot attempts is still pretty solid, but there are 9 playoff teams with better numbers including the team they’re facing here. St. Louis has lost in the first round for 3 straight seasons and Chicago was one of the teams to beat them, winning 4 straight in the 2013 quarterfinals after the Blues won Games 1 and 2. So they want this. St. Louis finally has a better team than Chicago and if they don’t get it done this year, they should probably just move to Vegas.
PICK: BLUES IN 7
Nashville Predators +150 vs Anaheim Ducks -175
Season Series: Predators won 2 of 3
I like Anaheim in this series despite Nashville being close in possession numbers and winning the regular season battle. The Ducks played all three games against the Predators before Thanksgiving, including a 5-1 loss in Anaheim’s 6th game of the season. As you may remember, Anaheim opened the season with 6 goals in their first 8 games. But since Christmas, the Ducks have been steamrolling the Western Conference and somehow managed to snatch the Pacific Division title from LA on the season’s last day. The Ducks allow the fewest goals in the NHL and have the league’s top penalty kill. Nashville’s biggest weakness is in goal – the formerly great Pekka Rinne sports a .906 save percentage this year. Ouch. Good value on the Ducks here.
PICK: DUCKS IN 6
San Jose Sharks +135 vs Los Angeles Kings -155
Season Series: San Jose won 3 of 5
Poor San Jose. They were either going to play LA or Anaheim in the first round thanks to the NHL’s new playoff format and that’s just a first round exit waiting to happen. The Sharks put together another quietly solid team (98 points, 51.8% score-adjusted Corsi, three top 25 scorers), but the Kings AGAIN had the best possession numbers in the league and they have home ice. The Sharks (like the Blues) have always been a bridesmaid to the Kings, Blackhawks, and Ducks and I think that keeps going here. Even without Justin Williams, the Kings are an impossible match-up. Sorry Sharks, I want ya to win, but this isn’t your year.
PICK: KINGS IN 6
(All stats from war-on-ice.com, puckon.net, puckalytics.com, and hockey-reference.com. But not nhl.com, screw them)
Best Value: Flyers +260 (I swear, no bias)
Safe Parlay: Pens/Stars
Risky Parlay: Blues/Ducks
If You Can’t Afford Your Mortgage: Pens/Ducks/Stars parlay