Playoff hockey is back! The first-round matchups for the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs are set, which means betting options galore.
Here are some of the bets we like throughout the postseason. Our panel includes ESPN betting analyst Doug Kezirian and ESPN NHL writers Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski.
Check out the entire NHL playoff schedule here.
Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill unless otherwise noted.
Boston Bruins (-145) over Washington Capitals in series
Kezirian: The Bruins begin the playoffs facing perhaps the one team that can match their physicality. However, the Caps are dealing with the injury bug, and with Game 1 on Saturday, the status of star forwards Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov is still unknown. The Bruins’ top “perfection” line already poses a serious matchup challenge, and if Washington’s top guys miss multiple games, Boston has a chance to cruise. Washington’s stingy defense might limit the Bruins, but now with a second line featuring midseason acquisition Taylor Hall, the Bruins ultimately should have too much firepower.
Bruins (+145) -1.5 games over Capitals in series
Wyshynski: This series feels like two ships passing in the night. Since the Hall trade, the Bruins have lost twice in regulation when they’ve iced a full lineup. Hall gave them a legitimate second scoring line, something they’ve lacked in recent postseasons. Combine that with Tuukka Rask playing in a non-bubble postseason — where he has a career .926 save percentage — and it spells trouble for a Capitals team that has literally limped down the stretch. Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie missed time due to injury. Kuznetsov and goalie Ilya Samsonov were on the COVID-related absences list. Rookie goalie Vitek Vanecek has played well beyond the minutes the Caps intended for him this season. The Capitals had a negative goal differential against Boston this season. It’s a bad matchup for them.
Tampa Bay Lightning (-140) over Florida Panthers in series
Kezirian: The reigning Stanley Cup champions begin their title defense with an in-state series against the Florida Panthers. These two teams led the league in penalty minutes, but the Lightning are poised to actually take advantage of that with the power play clicking at 22.3%. Plus, the Lightning are adding their best player, Nikita Kucherov, who missed the entire regular season but is slated to play the opener.
Tampa Bay, despite some regular-season struggles, is still a force. The Lightning have a Vezina-winning goalie in net, four lines that can score with anybody, and a solid defense led by Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Victor Hedman. Florida is obviously solid, but Tampa Bay is just too deep.
Carolina Hurricanes ( -125) -1.5 games over Nashville Predators in series
Kezirian: This is likely the first round’s biggest mismatch. The Hurricanes have excelled all season long, and now behind their top line led by Sebastian Aho, the Canes have some depth scoring with players like Vincent Trocheck and Andrei Svechnikov producing at a high clip offensively this season. The defense gets it done both ways, led by Dougie Hamilton, who has 42 points on the season and is one of the top shutdown defenders in the league to top it off.
Things already look bleak for Nashville at 5-on-5, but special teams is where Carolina can run away with the series. The Canes rank in the top three in both power play and penalty kill percentage, while Nashville is in the bottom third of the league. It would take a massive effort from Predators goalie Juuse Saros for Nashville to keep this series close. Carolina is just too much and should roll. Rather than lay the -250 on the series price, I will spot the Preds a game and lay the 1.5 games. I think the Hurricanes handle their business in six games or less.
Winnipeg Jets (+160) over Edmonton Oilers in series
Wyshynski: There’s only one series upset on the board that I like and it’s this one, provided forward Nikolaj Ehlers is back for the Jets. Sure, there are other things that make you side-eye this matchup for Winnipeg — goalie Connor Hellebuyck, a healthy Mark Scheifele, center Pierre-Luc Dubois following up a near star-making performance while with Columbus in the postseason bubble last summer. But Ehlers had 46 points in 47 games before his injury. The Jets averaged 3.15 goals per game with him and 2.25 goals per game since he left the lineup. If he’s back, this series is on upset watch — even with Connor McDavid playing like a human cheat code this season.
Auston Matthews (11-1) to win Conn Smythe
Wyshynski: I hit with Victor Hedman as the Conn Smythe winner in last postseason’s Stanley Cup picks. Logic dictated that the Lightning were going to win the Stanley Cup, and that if they did, Hedman would be the logical choice based on both offensive production and perceived importance to their championship run. There’s nothing logical about selecting the Toronto Maple Leafs to win the Stanley Cup. They haven’t done so since 1967. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2004. But if they were to win, then one assumes Matthews would have played a major role in that run. If he leads the postseason in goals — and he’s the betting favorite (+600) to do so — and the Leafs win the Cup, the MVP should be his.
Semyon Varlamov (75-1) to win Conn Smythe
Kaplan: The Islanders are not the sexiest team to pick for a long run. They won’t wow you with their offense. However, there is total defensive buy-in under coach Barry Trotz, and they can grind out wins — and wear teams down in a long series. They did it last year, as Varlamov posted a .921 save percentage and two shutouts over 19 starts in last year’s playoff run to the Eastern Conference finals.
If the Isles make it to the Stanley Cup Final this year, expect a lot of low-scoring games. Mat Barzal or Brock Nelson could put up decent numbers, but New York’s scoring is typically spread out. That makes their No. 1 goalie an easy selection for Finals MVP.
Capitals (14-1) to win Stanley Cup
Kaplan: These are great odds. There might be some trepidation about the Caps, considering a few of their key players — John Carlson, Ovechkin, Oshie — were a bit banged up toward the end of the regular season. They have two inexperienced goaltenders, which also gives some pause. But, as coach Peter Laviolette reminded me earlier in the year, “I’ve won with young goaltenders before.” The Caps are supremely motivated. They hired Laviolette in the offseason to instill urgency with the group, and they’ve all bought in. Worth taking a flier here.
Source: ESPN NHL