NHL Playoff Predictions - Wednesday, June 2
The NHL playoffs are now fully on to round two. The New York Islanders and Boston Bruins are tied at one game a piece. The Tampa Bay Lightning stole both games on the road to take a 2-0 series lead over the Carolina Hurricanes. However, the other two series are the ones we’ll be focusing on for Wednesday.
Colorado made a massive statement in game one of their series, defeating the Vegas Golden Knights by a score of 7-1. Montreal shocked the hockey world, erasing a 3-1 series deficit against the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one. They will begin their series against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday.
Series Tied 0-0
If you predicted these two teams would win their first round series, good for you. Both teams were substantial underdogs to advance, so hopefully you made some money off their success.
The Winnipeg Jets have been befuddling hockey handicappers for years now. Their underlying metrics suggest a team that shouldn’t be successful. Their 46.5% expected goal rate was bottom ten in the league during the regular season. In fact, all other teams remaining in these playoffs posted an expected goal rate of at least 52%.
Winnipeg particularly struggled in the defensive zone. They were a bottom five team in terms of high danger chances allowed as well as expected goals against. You might think this changed in their four game sweep of the Oilers, but it didn’t. Winnipeg gave up 60 high danger chances in four games while posting just a 41% expected goal rate.
However, the Jets defy analytics for two main reasons: goaltending and high end talent.
Connor Hellebuyck is one of the best goaltenders in the league. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2020 as the league’s best goalie and has followed that up by leading the league in terms of goals saved above expectation this year. He stopped 95% of the shots he faced in round one, so he looks to be on top of his game.
Winnipeg also converts on a higher than average amount of their chances due to the high end talent they possess. Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Paul Stastny make up an elite top six with any one of these players able to change a game.
On the other side, Montreal is a former analytical darling that has regressed mightily in that regard since changing their coach mid-season. Dominique Ducharme has changed the team philosophy and it hasn’t produced great results in terms of the underlying metrics. However, one can’t argue too much after he led his team to a come-from-behind upset win in the first round.
Carey Price deserves most of the credit for their round one upset. He stopped nearly seven goals more than expected in the first round, meaning he single-handedly prevented a goal a night. Price was once the cream of the crop in terms of goaltending in this league, and currently he’s playing like it's 2014 again.
I’ll be backing the Jets in the opener of this series for two main reasons. First off, Hellebuyck neutralizes Montreal’s main strength which is Carey Price’s ability to steal a game and/or series. Hellebuyck is likely better than Price, so that shouldn’t be a huge advantage for the Habs in this series.
Secondly, Montreal is coming off a hard-fought series that just wrapped up on Monday. On the other hand, Winnipeg has been waiting for over a week after sweeping the Oilers. We saw what Colorado did to Vegas when those teams were going through similar situations in that series. Colorado swept in round one, Vegas needed seven games to advance, and the rested Avalanche won the series opener by a score of 7-1.
It seems like sharp action is coming in on the Jets, moving the line over 10 points since the opener was released on Monday night. I’d feel comfortable laying up to -135 on Winnipeg.
Bet: Winnipeg Jets @ -130
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Colorado Leads 1-0
Through the first two and a half weeks of the NHL postseason, no team has looked more dominant than the Colorado Avalanche. They swept the St. Louis Blues in commanding fashion in round one, and then followed that up with an even more impressive performance to open up round two. Colorado won the President’s Trophy as the league’s best team in the regular season, has the best underlying metrics of any team and remains the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
Many expected the Vegas Golden Knights to be substantial competition for the Avalanche considering the fact the two teams finished tied in points during the regular season. The series is far from over and it’s only been one game, but Colorado sent a strong message with their 7-1 trancing of Vegas in the opener.
By all indications, it shouldn’t have been that ugly. In all situations, Colorado had a 2.63 to 2.39 expected goal advantage. The 5-on-5 expected goal discrepancy was just 1.35 to 1.18, even after being adjusted for score effects. With that being said, a 7-1 final score is ugly.
Coach Pete DeBoer made the decision to go with Robin Lehner in net for game one and it did not work out.. After a hard fought seven game series win over the Minnesota Wild, it’s understandable if the 36-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury needed a game off.
Starting Lehner wasn’t supposed to have such a negative impact. Lehner posted a +4.5 goals saved above expectation in the regular season and has been among the league’s best goalies for the past three seasons. In fact, he entered the season as Vegas’ number one goaltender with Fleury expected to be the backup.
However, Lehner gave up a soft goal early on a Mikko Rantanen backhander and Vegas never recovered. He ended up pulling seven pucks out of his net. It would be absolutely shocking if Fleury wasn’t back in between the pipes for Vegas in game two. If Lehner made some early saves on some questionable goals, there’s no doubt it’d be a different game in the opener. Hopefully for Vegas’ sake, Fleury can provide a better goaltending performance.
The Golden Knights will need a better performance in order to slow down Nathan MacKinnon. MacKinnon is the clear frontrunner to win the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoff MVP. He put up three points in the series opener. This was his third three point game of the playoffs---Colorado has played just five games.
Some people have no appetite to bet against the best team in the league, but sometimes we have to do that. Vegas should be stiff competition for the Avalanche---they finished with the same amount of points in the regular season. Vegas has been amongst the Cup favorites all season long.
It might end up looking silly, but at +164, I’m willing to back the Golden Knights to win this game and make this series competitive. I mean, Colorado is mortal right?
Bet: Vegas Golden Knights @ +164