NHL Playoff Predictions - May 21
Thursday night’s NHL games were bonkers. We had the Panthers blow a 2-0 lead before winning 6-5 in overtime. We had the Penguins and Islanders explode both physically and offensively out of nowhere. We watched the Golden Knights erase a 2-0 lead from the Minnesota Wild. We watched one of the league’s top stars in John Tavares get stretchered off in a frightening incident during Game One of the Toronto/Montreal series.
The NHL playoffs are the gift that keeps giving and we have four more games on tap for Friday.
Boston Leads 2-1
The first three games of this series have all gone to overtime with Boston needing double overtime to get the win in Game Three. For that reason, it might be surprising to some to see the Washington Capitals as nearly +150 underdogs in Game Four. The Capitals were the better team during the regular season and this series has been as close as can be.
Additionally, the Capitals look to be in a better place now than they were at the beginning of this series. Evgeny Kuznetsov has returned from a second stint on the Covid list. More importantly, after losing Vitek Vanecek in Game One, Ilya Samsonov has returned between the pipes for the Caps. Samsonov was brilliant in Game Three up until his puck-handling mistake in double overtime.
Despite all of this, it seems the sharp bettors love the Bruins in this series and they’ve liked them in every game to this point. Boston entered the season as favorites to win the division, but they failed to meet those expectations for most of the regular season. However, after the trade deadline, they got hot at the right time. The acquisition of Taylor Hall has now given Boston three lines that can contribute.
In this series, Boston has played to a 60.8% expected goal rate and they’ve generated 61.5% of the high danger chances. Therefore, one could say the Capitals have been rather fortunate to get these games to overtime.
On average, about 28% of NHL games go to overtime. Therefore, you can conclude that three straight games going to overtime is rather unlikely. Well, that’s happened. That just means four straight games going to overtime is even more unlikely.
In order to reduce the juice on the Bruins, I’d back them to win in regulation and hope to avoid a fourth straight overtime.
Bet: Boston ML In Regulation @ -105
Carolina Leads 2-0
In case you weren’t convinced by their dominant regular season, the Carolina Hurricanes are for real. For real. They’re a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. They’ve outscored the Nashville Predators by a score of 8-2 through the first two games while playing to a 56.9% expected goal rate.
However, Game Two provided hope that the Nashville Predators could make this a series. The game was basically even according to the possession and shot metrics. Carolina led 1-0 all game before scoring two goals in the final minute to dress up the final score.
Now, with the series turning to Nashville, I think the Predators are in a good spot here. They’ve proven to themselves they can hang with this Hurricanes team, but now they have their backs up against the wall in front of what should be a raucous crowd in Tennessee.
Nashville will be tested by the Hurricanes deep and talented forward group, but they have Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm who are more than capable of being a defensive force.
Through the first two games, Alex Nedeljkovic has outperformed Juuse Saros. Both goalies were amongst the league leaders during the regular season, so I don’t think we’ve seen Saros’ last stand. In his last 26 starts, Saros led the league in terms of goals saved above expectation.
Nashville needed to win 20 of their final 28 games just to sneak into the playoffs. They’ve been playing with playoff level desperation for months now. They’ve risen to the occasion before. As a home underdog here, I like them to get back in the series in front of the Preds faithful on Friday.
Bet: Predators ML @ +130
Jets Lead 1-0
If you’ve followed either of these teams this season, you shouldn’t be too surprised by what you saw in game one outside of the final score.
The Winnipeg Jets lost the 5-on-5 expected goal battle by a count of 2.98-1.38 (31.7%). Their defense allowed the Oilers to generate 13 high danger chances. However, they won the game because Connor Hellebuyck stopped 32 of 33 shots while posting a +2.09 goals saved above expectation (GSAx).
This is pretty consistent with what we saw from the Jets during the regular season. Winnipeg ranked 24th in the league in terms of expected goal rate. They ranked 27th in expected goals against. They were bottom five in terms of high danger chances allowed. However, just like in game one, Hellebuyck bailed them out by leading the league in terms of GSAx.
On the other hand, Connor McDavid had a subpar game for the Oilers and that usually spells trouble for Edmonton. McDavid had 105 points for the Oilers this season. He was directly involved in 57.4% of Edmonton’s goals this season with either a goal or an assist. This is far and away the highest rate in the league. Edmonton went 2-8-1 in the 11 games where McDavid didn’t register a point this regular season. They are now 0-1 in the playoffs.
There will be a lot of narratives flowing from this game about how the Jets shut down McDavid and how they might have figured something out. Winnipeg had the 29th worst rush defense during the regular season and I highly doubt they figured out how to stop the best rush player in hockey during their few days off. Nobody has been able to slow down McDavid in six seasons and I don’t think this iteration of the Jets will be the first.
Simple back-of-the napkin math tells you that by scoring 33 goals in 56 games, McDavid scores almost 0.6 goals per game. In other words, you expect over a goal from McDavid every two games he plays. Additionally, he scored seven goals in nine games against the Jets during the regular season. It’s slightly more complicated than that with more nuance, but it gives you a good general idea.
If you’re interested in backing the Oilers to even this series, you are probably expecting a big game from McDavid. The two are definitely correlated. Rather than lay -160 on the Oilers moneyline, you should peek towards the prop market here. McDavid is +106 to score a goal at any-time.
Bet: Connor McDavid to score at any time @ +106
Avalanche Lead 2-0
The Colorado Avalanche might have broken hockey betting. For that reason, I personally will not be partaking in betting this game, but I’ll break it down for the people.
The Colorado Avalanche are the best team in hockey. If anyone tried arguing this with me, I’d question them and then judge them. They had the best record during the regular season, scored the most goals, had the best puck possession, expected goal, and shot quality numbers. They were tremendous at both ends of the ice.
However, they are sitting as -220 consensus road favorites against the St. Louis Blues. The Blues have fallen off significantly since their Stanley Cup winning days in 2019, and they’re probably one of the worst teams in these playoffs. Despite that, they’re still at the very worst an average NHL team who is basically playing for their whole season in front of their home crowd.
The Avalanche won Game One handily, and the 4-1 final score might have even been flattering to the Blues. If you watched that game, it was more of a 7-1 game. In Game Two, it looked like we were getting a repeat with the Avs jumping out to a 3-0 lead. However, St. Louis made it a game and were within a goal two separate times in the third period. Colorado managed to hold on. However, the Blues were far and away the better team in the second and third period. Obviously, score effects played a part, but it’s at least encouraging for what I’m about to say.
If you’re going to bet on this game, it has to be the Blues. It’s Blues or pass in this spot, and I’m choosing pass because betting against the best team in the league on a Friday night doesn’t seem like my definition of fun.
However, St. Louis showed life in Game Two. They are now heading home and will be looking to desperately avoid falling behind 3 games to 0. The home fans will be behind the Blues for the first time in this series. Additionally, Nazem Kadri will likely be suspended for the Avalanche. Kadri is an important player and his loss isn’t minimal, though it can definitely be overcome by this loaded Avalanche team.
So in closing, if you have high pain tolerance and need action on this one, close your eyes and pray while betting the Blues. Or just throw Colorado into a parlay or something; it seems less painful.