NHL Playoff Picks and First Round Series Predictions

Picks for each series, exact number of games along with two Best Bets!

The first round of this year’s all-American NHL playoff race is underway and the Lightning, Penguins and Blues are the early front runners toward hockey’s holy grail. We previewed the Western Conference matchups on Tuesday and also offered some thoughts on the Eastern Conference futures. Flat bets and series picks will run throughout the playoffs but like most of you, I also entered a few NHL playoff contests that require you make picks on every series or fill out a bracket.

One of my favorites is this round-by-round contest where each player selects a winning team, number of games and the Over/Under for total goals in that series. Odds are set by the admin, generally using an average of the past 10 meetings between these teams. Here’s a look at my predictions for Round 1:

PHI at WSH: Caps in 6 games; OV 33.5

NYI at FLA: Panthers in 5 games; UN 34.5

DET at TB: Lightning in 7 games; OV 25.5

NYR at PGH: Rangers in 7 games; OV 25.5

MIN at DAL: Stars in 6 games; UN 34.5

NSH at ANA: Preds in 6 games; OV 34.5

CHI at STL: Blues in 7 games; OV 26.5

SJ at LAK: Sharks in 7 games; UN 28.5

Total Round Goals Tiebreaker: 254 (31.75 per series)

ANALYSIS

After factoring in the odds and determining ‘strength’ for each series, the top four series picks for  me are Florida, Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Dallas (no particular order). The only one that I bet before Thursday is St. Louis at -120 (Greek), sent out April 13th @PickSixtySports.

Today I was considering laying 1.5 games with FLA (+139) and/or DAL (-139) but there is something odd about that Dallas-Minny series. Caps (-310) are the big first round fave, followed by Dallas (-273) but -1.5 games, the Stars are -139 and Caps -125. This indicates that there is heavy public money coming in on Dallas and the books are having to charge an extra fee on top of the handicap to try and even it out. I like Dallas to win but I’m not a big fan of paying juice on top of a handicap. Given this inflated price, I’ll stay away from that series.

ISLANDERS at PANTHERS

Series Price: Florida -150 (or -1.5 games at +139)

The New York Islanders (3.73) are a tough, well disciplined team that averaged fewer than 4.0 penalties per game for the second-straight season. Florida (4.43) ranks with Anaheim and Philadelphia as one of the most heavily penalized playoff teams and based on my research, this ‘play safe’ attitude of New York won’t get them very far.

Since 2007, playoff dogs that averaged fewer than 4.0 penalties per game are just 47-70 SU (.402), and that doesn’t even include the lockout shortened 2012 season where the dogs won just three of 18 games. During the first two rounds, the prize pups see their record drop to 33-56 SU (.371), bolstered by last night’s losses from the Rangers (3.73) and Hawks (3.35).

New York is thin at net with Jaroslav Halak out for the first round and playoff rook Thomas Greiss starting. Greiss is a decent tender and posted a 2.55 GAA on the road this season but Florida made a habit of turning good goalies into Mr. Sieves all season. The Panthers (2.91 GPG) were sixth in scoring and show a significant advantage over the Isles in every advanced metric that I covered.

Conference home faves that averaged more than 2.7 GPG this season went 175-114, outscoring their opponents 2.9 to 2.4, just slightly less than NYI averaged on the road all season (2.6 GPG). In tightly-lined home games vs. other talented offense, the Panthers went 3-1-2 this season; wins coming over the Lighting, Rangers and Penguins. The three losses were against Washington and Boston (twice), and factoring all six games, Florida only allowed 1.8 goals per contest. That’s the Roberto Luongo factor and in the first round, I suspect it will be more than enough to bank four wins.

Series Prediction: Panthers win in either 5 (+448) or 6 games (+472)

Note: The average price on this split bet is +460 and once you deduct the cost of the losing stake (guaranteed), that’s +360. Dividing your bet essentially cuts the payback to +180 (2 x $50 bets), and I like this option a lot more than the odds on Florida -1.5 at +139. Think of it this way, if the series goes seven games, laying 1.5 games doesn’t help you anyway. The only thing you are risking is a Florida sweep and the odds of that happening are 11 to 1. For a bonus payback of +41 cents, I’ll take that chance.

Baseball picks are 4-0 to start the season and we’ll have plenty more MLB action along with nightly NHL playoff picks posted @PickSixtySports

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