Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference finals betting preview
The conference finals are set on both sides of the bracket. Lets’ look at things from a betting perspective. All recommended bets are tracked as one unit (bet to win one unit on favorite and risk one unit on underdog) unless stated otherwise. If you want, you can use the model projection to bet in proportion to its perceived edge.
All game lines via DraftKings Sportsbook. All stats courtesy of Evolving Hockey. Follow me on Twitter.
Edmonton Oilers (+ 200) at Colorado Avalanche (-250)
Dating back to the regular season, Edmonton is 44-5 when they score four or more goals, but their record is 13-32 when they score three or fewer goals, and that’s a big reason why this is not a good matchup for them. Colorado and Darcy Kuemper have only allowed more than three goals once in nine playoff games and they held the Blues (a pretty good offensive team) to just 2.5 goals per game. Edmonton has scored 4.3 goals per 60 minutes in the playoffs, which is slightly better than Colorado, but it’s going to be hard to score more than three goals versus the Avalanche. On that same note, the Avalanche have had an easy road in terms of the goaltenders that they have faced, and Mike Smith has been good in the playoffs, so maybe they’ll have a tougher time scoring as well, but I wouldn’t bet on Smith to do what he did in the first two rounds.
If there’s one thing that the Oilers have going for them, though, it’s secondary scoring. They’ve gotten big contributions from players like Evander Kane (leads the playoffs in goals) and Zach Hyman (he has as many goals as Nathan MacKinnon). They aren’t a one-man team, or even a two-man team, and if McDavid and his partner, Leon Draisaitl, continue to get support from the rest of the lineup, the Oilers will in a better position to pull off the upset. Colorado is a dominant team, though, and while there wasn’t much separating them and the Flames in the regular season, it’s clear that they weren’t playing up to their potential. Now they are, and the Oilers aren’t going to be able to box them out the way they did Calgary and Los Angeles. The Oilers are going to have to go toe-to-toe with the Avalanche and judging by the massive difference in shot attempt percentage, we should expect to see the Avalanche drive play.
The Oilers were able, for the most part, to keep the Kings and Flames best players at bay with good team defense and a strong forecheck, but Calgary and Los Angeles didn’t have any players that could break a game open with a single rush, and the Avalanche have several players that fit that mold. The Oilers haven’t had to deal with the likes of MacKinnon and Cale Makar in the playoffs, and Colorado’s forwards are going to be a lot tougher to keep out of the slot. Colorado’s shot share through the first two rounds sits at around 60 percent, while the Oilers share of the shot attempts was just 48 percent. The Avalanche will need players like Mikko Rantanen, who has just one goal in the playoffs, to step up, but Smith is going to have his work cut out for him. McDavid (and Draisaitl) have been playing out of their minds, but they’re going to need to crank it up a notch and I’m not sure they can do anymore. My model estimates that Colorado will win the series close to 73 percent of the time, and I could justify making a small wager on them, but the edge is minimal, and I’d rather look for other betting opportunities.
Tampa Bay Lightning (-175) vs. New York Rangers (+ 150)
New York battled back from deficits in both the first (3-1) and second round (2-0), but they won’t be facing off against anymore second or third string goaltenders. Like the Rangers, Tampa Bay’s MVP is their goaltender, and Andrei Vasilevskiy might be the only goaltender better than Igor Shesterkin currently. Vasilevskiy held the Panthers (the best offensive team in 26 years) to just three goals in four games, while Shesterkin held the Hurricanes to fewer than two goals per game, and if either team goes on to win the Stanley Cup, goaltending will be a big reason why. Shesterkin has posted a .928 save percentage in the playoffs, which is just behind Vasilevskiy’s .932 mark.
Lightning forward Brayden Point is still out with an injury, and even though the team did say that he is progressing, information regarding his injury has been scarce (as it often is at this time of year). It doesn’t look like Point will play anytime soon, therefore; I’m going to handicap the series with the assumption that he’ll be out of the lineup. It’s a big loss for the Lightning, especially considering that goals will likely be hard to come by in the conference final. Both teams have generated goals at about the same rate (3.2 per 60 minutes) in the playoffs but that’s probably going to change. The total for Game 1 is set at 5.5 and shaded to the under at -115, which leads me to how I’m approaching this series from a betting perspective: betting on a lot of players not to score points.
Take Anthony Cirelli, for example. Point’s injury made handicapping Cirelli’s production a lot tougher, and that’s a shame. Heading into the second round, I was hoping to bet Cirelli not to get points in each game, and that would’ve been a profitable approach given that he only picked up one point in seven games. He’s only picked up two points in the playoffs so far, as his main assignment is to shut down the other team’s best players, but with Point still out, there’s always an opportunity for Cirelli to be put in a role (even temporarily) that requires him to generate offense. It will be easier to handicap player props once it’s clear how head coach Jon Cooper plans to match lines in Games 1 and 2. For instance, if Artemi Panarin gets stuck with Cirelli for two games, there will likely be value betting on neither player to score points on a game-by-game basis. Panarin has been productive (11 points in 14 games) but he’s looked lost at times and will be facing players that have experience taking superstars like him out of the equation.
The Lightning have experience shutting teams down and making life easier on Vasilevskiy. If the series is low scoring, it probably works in their favor. Vasilevskiy has allowed two or fewer goals in 32 playoff games over the last three seasons, and the Lightning only lost two of those games. The Rangers have home ice advantage to start the series, but my model estimates that the Lightning will win approximately 65 percent of the time. A fair series price is around -185, which means there isn’t quite enough value to justify laying -175 on the series moneyline. The series spread (-1.5) is sitting at even money, but it’s -EV because my model suggests the Lightning will win in six games or less around 49 percent of the time.
Series Betting Record:
2-5 (-6.15 units)
The first round wasn’t good, but it wasn’t terrible. The second round, however, was a disaster. My model had a lot of confidence in the Flames, and it was a two-unit bet at -190, and even though it didn’t have a ton of confidence in the Panthers, Brayden Point’s injury shifted things enough that I was comfortable laying -170 in that series, and nothing worked out.