Beyond the Pittsburgh Penguins it seems that most bettors are torn as to which team will have the best shot at representing the East in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals.
In this exclusive NHL playoff preview we break down all four matchups in the East with picks and predictions for who will advance to the next round.
[dropcap2]P[/dropcap2]ittsburgh’s biggest problem used to be an inability to beat the Eastern Conference’s top teams but after going 36-12, the Pens are indeed the Beasts of the East and ready to take on the pack, starting with the New York Islanders.
Few pundits even had the Islanders pencilled to make the postseason and series pricing favors the Penguins (-417) vs. a payback of +359 on New York. So what chance does an eight-seed coming off five-straight road games and riding a three-game winless streak have taking down the almighty Penguins?
Well for starters, there is no pressure on New York whatsoever. Second, the Isles posted an impressive 14-6-4 road record this season but we should point out that in three trips to Pittsburgh the Isles were outscored 9-5 (1-2). New York’s top line of Matt Moulson, John Tavares and Brad Boyes are a threat every time they step on the ice but depth and special teams are a concern.
We are not going to count the New York Islanders out of the conversation completely but in a round that usually closer than most expect, Pittsburgh gets the nod for their ability to win battles in tight games.
Pick-Sixty Strategy: Take the Penguins in exactly six games (+381)
Bonus Pick: Take the first game between New York and Pittsburgh “Under” 5.5 (-104)
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Betting Tip: One-third of all games in the first round of the 2012 NHL Playoffs went to OT and two-thirds were decided by one goal
The next series we’ll look at is No. 2 seed Montreal (-146) hosting No. 7 Ottawa (+132). A cold front blew into La Belle Ville April 9 and from then until April 23, Montreal went 1-5 getting outscored 4.7 to 2.3 (4-1-1 O/U). Location didn’t seem to matter and now as Les Habitants get set to face Craig Anderson and the stingy Senators, the question is whether they will have the ability to elevate their game.
Anderson’s .941 save percentage is the highest-ever for a goalie who has played more than 20 games in the NHL. He takes up a lot of space and Montreal will jam the front of the net looking for rebounds but the return of defenseman Erik Karlsson could be a big difference. Montreal is a tough venue but Ottawa is loaded with veteran leadership and this team fought through a lot of adversity to make it to this point in the season.
Pick-Sixty Strategy: Take the Senators in a series upset
The Washington Capitals (+105) sizzled down the stretch but they’ll run into a tough test against Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers (-116). Washington beat the Rangers four games to one in the 2011 playoffs and lost in seven games during Round 2 last year. The Over/Under record for those two seasons is 1 over, 7 unders and 4 pushes so you can expect books to charge a premium on single-game unders.
Five of the last six regular season meetings between these teams finished with exactly five total goals and the other was a 2-1 Rangers home win (Feb. 17). It’s hard not to expect a tight, lower scoring series that goes seven games so we’ll cautiously put our money on the Caps.
Pick-Sixty Strategy: Take the Capitals
In 2012, eleven of the Rangers’ first 14 playoff games were decided by a one goal margin
Our final Round 1 series in the East is between the Bruins (-217) and Maple Leafs (+194). Boston started April with four wins in five games but took a nosedive from there, finishing with a 2-5-2 record in their final nine games. The Bruins can start fast and ranked first in first period scoring during the 2011 playoffs, tied for 10th in the 2012 playoffs and ranked 7th in first period scoring during the 2013 regular season. James Reimer will have his hands full but he at least has the league’s second best penalty kill (87.9-percent) to help bail him out if things get hairy.
Toronto’s Phil Kessel had at least one point in 11 of the last 12 games and while he deflects attention from the media for this recent struggles against Boston, Toronto needs its other players to step up. The Leafs led the league in hits and fighting majors but fighting will not get you far in the NHL playoffs. If the Leafs try too hard to get physical the Bruins know how to make them pay.
Pick-Sixty Strategy: Give Boston the edge for playoff experience and take the Bruins to win in six
There are a lot of different approaches to playoff betting in any sport but here`s a bit of advice on how to tackle the NHL postseason. After handicapping each series, take a step back and look at the big picture. Make a few solid series predictions and then sit back and enjoy the games. Playoffs are full of surprises, especially in the first round. The fact this is a shortened season makes it even more likely we see some shockers in Round 1 but it`s a long haul ahead. We`ll be here for the ride; good luck with your plays.
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