The regular season is over and the first round matchups for the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs are set. I’ve done very well with my series picks in recent years and I’m expecting to once again make a profit here in round 1.
The odds I’m using below are from SportsInteraction.com, our top rated sportsbook for Canadians.
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Tampa Bay Lightning (1) vs New Jersey Devils (WC2)
- Tampa Bay 1.30
- New Jersey 3.63
The Devils stepped up their game down the stretch going 7-1-1 to close out the season and just barely hold on to the last playoff spot in the East, just 1 point ahead of the Florida Panthers. The Devils have basically been playing playoff style hockey for the past month and just making the playoffs will be a huge achievement for this team that was not expected to qualify for the post season this year.
The issue for the Devils become the fact that they rely almost entirely on Taylor Hall to provide them with offense. In a playoff series I expect the Lightning to match up Victor Hedman against Hall and I think it will be difficult for Hall to carry his team when he is seeing one of the top two-way defensemen in the game on the ice with him throughout the series.
Add in the fact that the Lightning have a very deep team with proven playoff performers and two high end top lines that can score in bunches and I think the Devils would have to play an almost perfect series to advance in this one.
The odds aren’t great, but that’s for good reason. I like Tampa to get the job done in this one.
Play: Lightning 1.30
Boston Bruins (2) vs Toronto Maple Leafs (3)
- Toronto 2.33
- Boston 1.63
It seems to me like every Toronto Maple Leafs fan wanted to play Tampa instead of Boston in the first round. This I don’t really understand. Sure the Bruins have been a bit banged up of late and look like a formidable opponent when fully healthy, but the Lightning are without a doubt the more talented team.
I actually like Toronto’s chances against Boston, something I would not have said if Toronto was playing Tampa Bay. The Maple Leafs won the season series against the Bruins 3-1 and I think the speed and depth of the Maple Leafs forward lines will give the Bruins defensemen fits in this series. Chara is having a strong year, but he’s not what he used to be as a shutdown defenseman and I actually really like Matthews lines chances to get the better of the Bruins captain in this series.
The Maple Leafs have some of the best depth at forward in the league with 3 lines that can score in bunches and a high end fourth line with Komarov, Plekanec and Kapanen. The question mark for the Maple Leafs in this series is without a doubt their defense’s ability to slow down one of the top lines in the league with Bergeron-Marchand-Pastrnak. The forwards will have to play a very strong two-way game to take some pressure off of the back end, but the Leafs have proven they can play a solid defensive game while not giving up anything at the offensive end.
Overall, I think this is at worst a coin flip of a series, but I am actually leaning towards the Maple Leafs, so getting them as decently sized underdogs is a solid bet in my opinion.
Play: Maple Leafs 2.33
Washington Capitals (1) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (WC1)
- Washington 1.76
- Columbus 2.10
The Caps have quietly had a very strong season. They still finished atop the Metropolitan Division, but nobody seems to be talking about the Caps as Cup contenders this year, which I’m sure is a welcome change for the perennial favourites. In terms of how the Caps are built, I like their team better this year than last. They may not have quite as much firepower up front as last year, but Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov and Oshie is easily a strong enough core to put up plenty of goals these playoffs.
I mostly like their back end better this year. I think picking up Shattenkirk was a mistake last season because John Carlson is actually a better point man on the top PP unit and Shattenkirk turned into a bit of a liability at even strength. The Caps have four high end defensemen in Carlson, Orlov, Orpik and Niskanen and whoever gets penciled in as the #5 and #6 defensemen have performed admirably this season.
Columbus turned it on late in the season, but I still think the Caps will simply be too much for Columbus in this series. I still think Jack Johnson is a liability as a shut down defenseman and I fully expect him to be a significant negative in this series. I do not think the Blue Jackets have the talent on the back end to slow down the high end talent of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Kuznetsov, and I expect that to be the difference in this series.
Play: Capitals 1.76
Pittsburgh Penguins (2) vs Philadelphia Flyers (3)
- Pittsburgh 1.43
- Philadelphia 2.91
I’m going with the upset here. I’m not confident in it, but I think if the Penguins are going to lose it’s most likely to be in the first round before they get into their playoff groove. The Pens went 4-0 against the Flyers in the regular season, but I’m not taking that into account because I think this will be a grimy series where both teams are fighting for every inch.
I think Sean Couturier has become an elite defensive center in the league and I like his chances to at least slow down and possibly even get the better of whichever one of Malkin or Crosby he’s matched up against. Nolan Patrick has also came into his own in the second half of the season becoming a formidable second line center.
Matt Murray has also not had a very good season at all with a 2.92 GAA and only a .907 save percentage. Murray has been a dominant goaltender in each of the Penguins runs to the Cup the past two seasons, so if he is only average this post season the Pens could be exiting early.
I do give the Pens a slight edge in this series all things considered, but based on the odds I think the Flyers are the sharper bet.
Play: Flyers 2.91
Check out my Western Conference picks here.