NHL Playoff Predictions - Monday, May 24
We have our first departures of the NHL playoffs. The Colorado Avalanche swept the St. Louis Blues and the Boston Bruins dispatched of the Washington Capitals in five on Sunday. On Monday, the Florida Panthers, Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild will look to avoid joining the Blues and Caps on the golf course. Additionally, the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins play a pivotal game five in the Steel City. The other series up north of the border is starting to heat up as well.
Series Tied 2-2
Watch out, but the deeper this series gets, the better the New York Islanders are playing. After escaping Pittsburgh with a split in two games they were outplayed in, the Islanders were clearly the better team on Long Island.
Of all eight first round series, this is the tightest series in terms of expected goals. The Islanders have a slight 51.3% to 48.7% advantage through four games. Again, this is good news for New York. If they can keep games close, their defensive prowess and goaltending advantage has a good chance of shining through.
Over the last three games of this series, the Islanders have generated 38 high danger chances at 5-on-5 while allowing just 25 to Pittsburgh. This shows the Isles are nearing a return to the elite form they played in during the first two-thirds of the regular season. New York was third best in terms of limiting opponents high danger chances during the season.
Sidney Crosby scored in game one of this series, but he hasn’t recorded a point since. It goes without saying that this is a huge key for the Islanders as Crosby is arguably the greatest player of our generation and even at 33 years old, is among the league’s elite. When the Islanders swept the Penguins in 2019, they held Crosby to just one point. Not many expected they could repeat that performance, but the defensive pairing of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock have done just that.
It’s likely not coincidental that the Islanders are 2-0 in games started by Ilya Sorokin and 0-2 in games started by Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov gave up a back-breaking soft goal in game two that had the Isles chasing the game all night. In game three, he couldn’t make a save and the Isles lost despite scoring four on Tristan Jarry. However, Sorokin was called on in game four to relieve Varlamov and the results all but guarantee he will get the start in game five. Through two wins, Sorokin has stopped 68 of 72 shots, good for a .944 save percentage.
In the other crease, Tristan Jarry has been leaky at best. He’s given up at least four goals in three of the games in this series. His -2.8 goals saved above expectation is the fourth worst of all goalies in the playoffs. He’s ahead of only the disgusting Florida Panthers duo (we’ll get there shortly) and Jordan Binnington (who’s been swept out of the playoffs).
I think New York is improving their play every game. This is a veteran team that isn’t afraid of going on the road as they showed in the opener of this series. Sorokin gives them a clear goaltending advantage. For that reason, I like them as underdogs in Game Five.
Bet: New York @ +120
Series Tied 1-1
First off, a big middle finger to Dominique Ducharme, the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal barely showed up in Game Two, but Ducharme decided to pull his goalie with seven minutes left in a game his team had no chance of coming back in while down three goals to cost us the under, but I digress.
In this series, we’ve already seen both ends of the spectrum for the Toronto Maple Leafs. This team has been marred by playoff inconsistency over the past few seasons, and it seems like this year is no different. In the opener, the team was not able to shake off seeing their captain go down and put in a lifeless effort in a 2-1 loss. In game two, the Maple Leafs thoroughly dominated the Habs.
If the Leafs play like they did in Game Two for the remainder of this series, it’ll be a quick one. This Montreal team clearly isn’t the same team under Ducharme as they were under Claude Julien. No longer are they an elite possession team that generates high danger chances. They were an uninspiring team down the stretch of the season. They’ve continued that into the playoffs, scoring just three goals in two games.
While there is no real home-ice advantage in the two series up in Canada due to absence of fans, the Leafs being -165 favorites on the road is still prohibitive. When betting on this game, you’re trying to predict which version of Carey Price we’ll get.
Price was once the best goalie in hockey, but his play has been inconsistent at best over the past few seasons. He had a mediocre season in 2019-20, played very well in the postseason bubble, had another average season this year, was spectacular in the opener of this series and then was pedestrian in game two.
If you’re willing to bet that Price has another big night, the Habs are worthy underdogs at +145. However, I’d lean towards the Leafs on the puck-line at this spot. Especially if Montreal’s coach is going to pull the goalie with seven minutes left again, the plus money is appetizing.
Bet: Toronto -1.5 @ +150
Tampa Bay Leads 3-1
I’ve been on the Florida Panthers a lot through this series as an underdog. It’s been a pretty even series on the ice in terms of puck possession and shot quality. However, there’s one big difference between these teams and it’s a huge storyline as we head into an elimination game for the Panthers.
When betting on the Panthers, one hopes for average goaltending. All we ask for is goaltending that gives them a chance to win. Nobody is expecting a show-stopping performance. Through four games, we’ve gotten that maybe once. Tampa has 19 goals in this series already.
If you’ve lost track of who’s between the pipes for the Florida Panthers in this series, you’re not alone.
Sergei Bobrovsky started the first game of the series despite having a worse regular season than Chris Driedger. In Florida’s game one loss, Bobrovsky was beaten five times.
Coach Joel Quenneville turned to Driedger in game two. Driedger performed admirably but was outdueled by Andrei Vasilevskiy. Dridger got the net again in game three, but was pulled after the second period after allowing five goals in the middle stanza. Bobrovsky ended up getting the win in relief without allowing a goal.
Naturally, Quenneville went back to Bobrovsky in game four. Bobrovsky was beaten twice on the first three shots he faced on his way to ultimately allowing five goals in less than half a game. Bobrovsky was again replaced by Driedger mid-way through the second period.
So through four games, both Driedger and Bobrovsky have made two starts. Both goalies have been pulled midway through a game. Bobrovsky has a -4.0 goals saved above expectation mark while Dridger hasn’t been much better, posting a -2.8 mark.
So which way will Quenneville turn in the must win game five? Bobrovsky or Driedger? How about none of the above.
Spencer Knight was in the starter’s net at Florida’s practice on Sunday, meaning it’s likely he’ll get the call for the Cats on Monday. Knight is just 20 years old with four NHL appearances and three starts on his resume. The former first round pick was playing college hockey in March.
He’s performed well in his limited NHL action and he has an impressive pedigree, but the dangers of turning to a kid in this spot are obvious. Then again, it’s not like he could be much worse than the other two options have been.
The Lightning closed as -152 favorites in Saturday’s game four. Currently, they sit as just -108 favorites for Monday’s game five. Obviously, the line is adjusted for the change in venue as the Lightning go from being the home team to the road team. However, with elite teams like the Lightning, their home-ice advantage isn’t worth that much.
I can see valuing home-ice that highly for a more average team with an extraordinary home-ice experience such as the Nashville Predators. However, the Lightning are an elite team both at home and on the road. In the last three regular seasons with fans in the stands, the Lightning finished with a top five road record in each season. Additionally, they also have a better road playoff winning percentage than home playoff winning percentage since 2017.
Between the value on the closing line and the goaltending matchup, give me the defending champs at this pick’em price.
Bet: Tampa Bay @ -108
Winnipeg Leads 3-0
Abort mission. Bet the Jets.
With about eight minutes left in game three on Sunday, it looked like we were going to have a series. The Edmonton Oilers had a 4-1 lead on the road against the Winnipeg Jets. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were putting up numbers to signify their arrival in the series.
However, Edmonton totally unraveled in the final eight minutes of the game. The Jets scored three goals in three minutes to tie the game before Nikolaj Ehlers won it in overtime to put them up 3 games to 0 in the series.
At this point, I don’t need to examine the underlying metrics or the stats. I realize the Oilers had almost 50 shots in game three, but I really don’t think it matters.
If we’re going off the fact that these are human beings playing these games and not robots, I just don’t see how the Oilers can recover. Especially not the very next day. Edmonton was in total control and could have used game four as an opportunity to even the series before heading back home. Instead, they know their season is all but over and the only thing left to decide is whether it’ll be a sweep or if they’ll salvage a game or two.
Momentum is real, Winnipeg has it and Edmonton doesn’t.
There are a few other reasons why I like the Jets as well. They’re finally getting healthy with Nikolaj Ehlers rejoining the lineup for game three and scoring twice. Pierre-Luc Dubois also recently returned to help solidify their second line behind Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor.
Also, Mike Smith, the goalie for the Oilers, is 39 years old. He’ll either be playing on back-to-back nights in game four, or the Oilers will turn the crease over to Mikko Koskinen who is a tremendous downgrade and had a poor season.
Bet: Winnipeg @ -108
Vegas Leads 3-1
In the wise words of Shania Twain, “dance with the one who brought you.”
The Minnesota Wild have been extremely good to hockey bettors this season as an undervalued team that had near elite metrics while performing very well all season long.
It’s through some unfortunate breaks that they find themselves on the brink of elimination here in game five against the Golden Knights.
In game three, Minnesota scored to take a 3-0 lead. However, video replay determined the play was just barely offsides and the goal didn’t count even though the zone entry had no real impact on the goal. The score stayed 2-0, the Golden Knights got some momentum and they completed the comeback in impressive fashion.
In game four, Minnesota scored to tie the game at 1-1, but once again the Golden Knights used a coaches challenge, this time for goalie interference. The refs decided to wave the goal off. I personally disagreed with the decision as the contact was negligible at best, but it was a big goal wiped off the board that could have changed the game.
Through this series, the Wild have actually been the better team at 5-on-5, which is hard to imagine about a team that trails 3 games to 1 and has been outscored 12-3. However, Minnesota has posted an expected goal rate of 55.1%. In addition, they’ve generated 39 high danger chances in comparison to 28 for Vegas during the first four games.
The main difference in the series has been goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury has continued his cinderella resurgent season by posting a goals saved above expectation of +6.3. Fleury has been beaten just four times and has stopped 96.6% of Minnesota’s shots. Despite a 42 save shutout in game one, Cam Talbot has not held up his end of the bargain since then, posting a negative goals saved above expectation on the series.
Minnesota is huge underdogs in this spot as Vegas looks to end the series on home ice. It does look like it’s beginning to fall apart for the Wild, but the value at +160 is too good to pass up. If this is our last time betting on the Wild this season, so be it.
Bet: Minnesota @ +160