The NHL playoffs are here, and these playoffs contain the most parity of the four major North American sports.
You could make a case for at least 12 of these 16 teams to win the Stanley Cup. Whether it be based on offense, defense, goaltending or special teams, there are plenty of teams in these playoffs that have the ability to go on a run.
With that, we are exceedingly likely to see some upsets along the way. The first round is often the most entertaining of the postseason as there is plenty of action going on with eight series’ happening simultaneously.
Let’s add some extra first-round intrigue and identify three underdogs you might want to consider betting on to win their first-round series. Check out our recommended NHL betting sites to get in on the action this week.
Dallas Stars (+150) vs. NSH
Dallas got into the postseason using an interesting formula. They were one of the league’s very worst offenses, but also one of the league’s very best defenses. Their league rankings are quite diverse.
|Team Offense||2.55 G/GP||T-28th|
|Team Defense||2.44 GA/GP||2nd|
Of the bottom 12 offensive teams in the league this season, only two are in the playoffs: Dallas and the New York Islanders. Of the bottom nine offensive teams, the Stars are the only teams to qualify for the playoffs while the team they tied with, the Arizona Coyotes, full just short.
However, if the playoffs are going to be as tightly contested as we have seen in the past relative to the regular season, Dallas is going to have a chance.
Now, there’s little doubt it’s going to be tough for them to produce offense against a defense of Nashville’s caliber. The Predators sat just one spot behind the Stars in a third-place tie with the Bruins in terms of defense with just 2.59 goals against per game.
Nashville’s offenses wasn’t significantly better, however, as they scored just 2.88 goals per game, good for 19th league-wide.
For me, there is one x-factor in this series: the health of Ben Bishop.
I’ve written a couple times recently about just how good Bishop has been this season, especially of late, and it bears mentioning again here.
Here is a month-by-month breakdown of Bishop’s worth in the 2018-19 regular season.
|Bishop by the Month 2018-19|
Bishop has been an absolute model of consistency this season in terms of his on-ice play, and he’s been absolutely outrageous down the stretch in March and April and has rattled off four shutouts over that span.
However, Bishop also made just one April start after leaving a March 27th start with an injury. He also missed three weeks in February and made just five starts in November. All told, Bishop appeared in only 46 games this season.
As we can tell, Bishop’s health is an extremely important factor here, with all due respect to backup Anton Khudobin who filled in fantastically with a 2.57 GAA and .923 Sv% of his own this season across 41 appearances.
While the regular season is a new ball game, let’s consider that the Stars went 2-1-2 against the Predators this season.
They’ll be in tough, but it would not surprise me for this series to be riddled with one-goal games given how stout each team has been on the back end this season. If that’s the case, we have to love the Stars here at +150 to pull off the first-round upset over their Central Division rival.
Winnipeg Jets (+105) vs. STL
Now, who would have thought this about three months ago?
On January 31st, the Winnipeg Jets sat first in the Central Division and third overall in the NHL with 54 points while the Blues sat last in the division and 30th in the entire league with 34 points. The Jets had the Blues by 20 points.
Fast forward to April 6th and the Blues and Jets each finished the regular season with 99 points while the Jets earned second place, and home-ice advantage, thanks to their 45 regulation+overtime wins as opposed to St. Louis’ 42.
Despite Winnipeg finishing as the higher seed and starting the series at home, they are the slight underdogs at MyBookie, and I think we should take advantage.
There’s little doubt the Blues have been the better team for a few months now as they made up 20 points since the calendar flipped to 2019. They also went 8-1-1 over their final 10 games of the regular season.
I’m not about to rule out this Jets team.
Winnipeg will get a massive boost to their lineup in Game 1 with the return of Josh Morrissey, one of the most underrated defensemen in this league. Morrissey hasn’t played since February 24th, and the Jets went just 10-9-1 in the 20 games that Morrissey missed.
With Morrissey’s return, the Jets have a real nice top-four group on their blueline along with Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers. That is a championship-caliber top-four.
We know what Winnipeg can do on offense. In case you don’t, here’s what I am talking about.
|Jets Dynamite Offense|
|Total Offense||3.29 G/GP||7th|
|Total Offense||3.68 G/GP||3rd|
|Home Power Play||31.4%||2nd|
Clearly, Winnipeg can score. The home ice is important here as that is where their power play dominates, something that could be a factor in this series, although the Blues were the NHL’s top road penalty kill this season at 86.4%.
Winnipeg will need Connor Hellebuyck to step up. While Hellebuyck performed well in last year’s run to the Western Conference Final with a 2.36 GAA and .922 Sv% in 17 starts, he struggled to perform consistently this season with a 2.90 GAA and .913 Sv%. The Jets will need Hellebuyck to find his postseason form from last season to bolster their chances at pulling off the minor upset there.
Given their firepower and newfound health on the blueline, I like the Jets as slight underdogs to find their game and knock off the Blues in round one.
Toronto Maple Leafs (+120) vs. BOS
Like the Jets, the Maple Leafs scuffled down the stretch of the regular season, winning just three of their final 10 games heading into a first-round matchup with the Bruins.
First-round series’ against the Bruins have not gone well for Toronto in recent history. They epicly collapsed late in the third period in Game 7 in Boston back in the 2012-13 season and blew a one-goal third-period lead in last year’s Game 7 round one loss, also at the TD Garden in Boston.
The Maple Leafs bolstered an already-excellent forward group with the league’s biggest free agent splash in the form of center John Tavares. With Tavares and Auston Matthews as their top two centers, the Maple Leafs could very well own the best center depth in the postseason when we consider Nazem Kadri is third on the chart after rattling off back-to-back 32-goal seasons before taking a step back offensively this season.
This could present a matchup issue for Boston despite their home-ice advantage. Patrice Bergeron’s line will only be able to handle one of these two elite centermen, giving the Leafs an All-Star caliber centerman on the ice at all times when Bergeron isn’t.
The Maple Leafs also handled themselves well on the road this season. Their 23 wins on the road actually matched their 23 home wins. Their 3.41 goals per game on the road was good for third-best in the league while their overall offense of 3.49 goals per game checked in at fourth.
Toronto had seven players scored 20 goals this season and nine scored at least 16.
The Maple Leafs also have a goaltender in Frederik Andersen who has the ability to steal a series. Before struggling to a .890 Sv% in a rough month of March, Andersen was very much in the Vezina Trophy conversation. The good news is Andersen rebounded with a .925 Sv% across three starts in April, giving him some confidence heading into this series.
It’s no secret that the Maple Leafs will need Andersen in peak form to win this series. Toronto’s blueline is bar-none their biggest question mark, but I’m not so sure it is as poor as popular opinion.
They acquired Jake Muzzin for his postseason experience and excellent two-way play. It’s also possible they traded for the big-body blueliner knowing they would face the Bruins in the first round. The physical aspect of Muzzin’s game is something the Maple Leafs lacked in their first-round departure last season.
They also have a Norris Trophy candidate on the blueline in Morgan Rielly. Rielly led all NHL defensemen with 20 goals and finished third with 72 points. He and Ron Hainsey, Toronto’s top pair, combined to finish +54 on the season.
If Andersen plays well, Toronto has a real shot at winning this series. They can score with anyone in these playoffs, we know that. Improved defense and quality goaltending could very much get the Maple Leafs passed the first round for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
At +120 odds, I like their value.