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Breaking down Round 1 of the NHL playoffs

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

The NHL Playoffs start tonight. We’ve grabbed stat data, game prices and series prices to help set the shimmering stage. 

NHL playoffs skate into action with five matchups Wednesday night

To help you get ready for opening round matchups, we’ve put together series capsules that will help paint a picture for each battle. We’ll look at tonight’s five openers momentarily, and save the other three for Thursday’s report.

The offensive and defensive rankings you see below are based on goals scored and allowed per game. Our “pace estimate” comes from the total number of shots attempted per game for each playoff entry. This approach considers Pittsburgh as a “fast-paced” team because their games saw 66.1 total shots-per-game from the Penguins and their opponents (highest of all playoff teams). St. Louis is considered “slow paced” because their games only saw a total of 56.8 shots-per-game (lowest of all playoff teams). (Futures prices from the South Point are in parenthesis on the italicized lines)

NY Rangers (20/1) at Montreal (8/1) (7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network)

  • Series Price: Montreal -135, NY Rangers 115
  • Game One Price: Montreal -135, total of 5 (over -115)
  • Offensive Ranking: NY Rangers #4, Montreal #15
  • Defensive Ranking: NY Rangers #12, Montreal #4
  • Pace Estimate: Average (both teams saw just under 60 total shots in their games)

Very clearly this is going to be a battle of New York’s strong offense vs. Montreal’s great defense based on those rankings. The market tends to respect defenses more than offenses, which might be a key reason why the Canadians are favored more than the pure worth of home ice advantage. 

Boston (20/1) at Ottawa (25/1) (7 p.m. ET on NHL Network)

  • Series Price: Boston -180, Ottawa 160
  • Game One Price: Boston -120, total of 5 (over -115)
  • Offensive Ranking: Boston #13, Ottawa #22
  • Defensive Ranking: Boston #9, Ottawa #10
  • Pace Estimate: Average (both teams right at 60 total shots in their games)

Boston is the favorite despite not having home ice advantage in this matchup, and…as “A Numbers Game” guest Cam Gore mentioned Tuesday to Gill Alexander, despite Ottawa winning all four regular season meetings. Boston’s superiority shows up on offense in those stat rankings. Boston is priced to win at least one of the first two in Ottawa, and then will be pricey favorites when the series moves to Beantown. Note, though, that there is skepticism in the futures prices about Boston’s ability to go deep if they do survive this round. 

Columbus (10/1) at Pittsburgh (8/1) (7:30 p.m. ET on USA Network)

  • Series Price: Pittsburgh -170, Columbus 150
  • Game One Price: Pittsburgh -165, total of 5.5 (Under -115)
  • Offensive Ranking: Columbus #6, Pittsburgh #1
  • Defensive Ranking: Columbus #2, Pittsburgh #17
  • Pace Estimate: Very fast, with Pittsburgh at 66.1 shots in their games, Columbus 61.4.

We’ve already alerted you that this is the MUST-SEE series of the first round. Now that projection for a fast-pace makes it seem even more exciting. Columbus has great rankings on both sides of the rink. Pittsburgh’s basically the Houston Rockets of the NHL…putting up big numbers on offense but settling for a league average defense. This could just as easily be a “Final Four” matchup in terms of pure team quality. A travesty that it’s a first round matchup. Might be a series where you really want to look at Columbus and that superior defense whenever they’re in a bounce-back spot off a loss. 

St. Louis (25/1) at Minnesota (7/2) (9:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network)

  • Series Price: Minnesota -150, St. Louis 130
  • Game One Price: Minnesota -150, total of 5 (over -125)
  • Offensive Ranking: St. Louis #12, Minnesota #2
  • Defensive Ranking: St. Louis #13, Minnesota #7
  • Pace Estimate: probably slow, because St. Louis is VERY slow at just 56.8 shots in their games

We can deduce from the numbers that the inferior underdog is going to try to slow things down to take the superior favorite out of its comfort zone. You saw this often in the just-completed college basketball season. Sometimes it works! Minnesota has the better ranking on both sides of the ice though, making it tougher for the Blues to fully exploit their tactical goal. 

San Jose (20/1) at Edmonton (20/1) (10 p.m. ET on USA Network)

  • Series Price: Edmonton -135, San Jose 115
  • Game One Price: Edmonton -140, total of 5 (over -115)
  • Offensive Ranking: San Jose #19, Edmonton #8
  • Defensive Ranking: San Jose #5, Edmonton #8
  • Pace Estimate: probably slow, because San Jose State is VERY slow at just 57.6 shots in their games

The market isn’t fond of either in terms of making a run at the title. But, we do have a pair of top quarter defenses. And, Edmonton’s balance has to be respected. The superior offense of the Oilers and home ice in the best-of-seven are priced to be the difference-makers. Another case where a slow underdog will try to take the favorite out of its comfort zone. 

“Playoff mode” for three NBA teams in Wednesday finale’s

It’s “win or probably go home” for the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls Wednesday night, as they try to clinch the last two spots in the East brackets of the NBA playoffs. It’s “win and you still might go home anyway” for the Miami Heat!

All three teams finish the 2016-17 regular season on their home floors. All are clear favorites over opponents who have nothing at stake. Whether or not they win (and cover) will likely be due to how much effort the opponent brings. A quick analysis of that issue.

Indiana (-9 on the offshore overnight line) vs. Atlanta: The Hawks are playing on night two of a back-to-back, but have covered six of their last seven games. By the time you read this, Atlanta’s planned effort may be clearer. They wrapped up the #5 seed in the East by obliterating Charlotte Tuesday. They know they’ll be taking on Washington this weekend. Will the Hawks even bother? 

Chicago (-15 on the overnight line because Brooklyn is sitting many players) vs. Brooklyn: Brooklyn is 6-1 ATS their last seven, which includes on outright win over the Bulls a few days ago. The Nets are also 15-5 ATS their last 20. But, they announced late Tuesday that they will be sitting several players. Will the backups bring the same fire that’s obviously been helping that long ATS run? 

Miami (no line pending clarity on the Wizards’ plans) vs. Washington: The Wizards are just 2-5 ATS their last seven, and one of those failures was as a home favorite vs. these very Heat this past weekend. Washington knows Atlanta’s on deck. Might be worth remembering that the Heat had trouble getting meaningful distance from Cleveland’s backups Monday night. 

Honestly, it’s very tough to bet these games unless you know FOR SURE what kind of attitude the visitors will bring. Tough spot for Miami, who needs help from disinterested visitors to even have a shot. We’ll touch on key stats for the survivors for you tomorrow. 

Nate Silver and 538 question NBA betting markets on Cleveland

Late Monday, data journalism website five-thirty-eight posted an article questioning the betting market’s assessment of the Cleveland Cavaliers true NBA championship chances.

While generally respectful of the market, Silver came to two conclusions that sports bettors should find interesting:

*LeBron James DOES lift his game, and his team in the playoffs

*That still probably won’t be enough to win the trophy this year

We already know that the Cavs won’t reach their projected regular-season win total of 56.5 wins. They’re currently 51-30 and LeBron will miss their season finale Wednesday vs. Toronto. We already know that the Cavs will be a money loser against the spread this season. Their ATS record according to is 36-42-3. That becomes the equivalent of 36 wins and 46.2 losses when you factor in the 10% vigorish on lost bets. So, minus 10 units with a game to go.

How will the market price Cleveland once the playoffs begin? How big an underdog will they be to Golden State if both return to the finals? Answers to the first question will be clear soon enough. And, we’ll be able to estimate a market Power Ratings scale in short order as well.

Even though Golden State is a clear favorite over the field (South Point has it Golden State -160, field 140), there are several interesting narratives about to play out in the NBA postseason. We look forward to covering them for you.

An analytics case against Russell Westbrook as NBA MVP

An interesting narrative playing out in the final days of the NBA regular season involves the Most Valuable Player award. This has been a bettable proposition offshore through season. Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder is now as high as -700 to win after clinching a full season “triple double” average. 

It’s a debate with compelling arguments being made by all sides. Five-thirty-eight, whom we just mentioned above, is running articles this week that make the case for all serious nominees. Interestingly, the analytics guru who wrote “Basketball on Paper” felt the need to write an article specifically against Westbrook. 

Dean Oliver, in an article self-published back on April 4 (read the entirety here), said:

“Is Westbrook actually a better player than he was last year or is he really just the same guy in a different context? Now that Durant is in Oakland, Westbrook doesn't have to share stats with him and he can take an extra six shots per game and be more ball dominant. Westbrook is scoring an extra 8 points per game but he’s shooting worse and turning it over more. His overall efficiency on offense is actually down as is the team’s offensive efficiency. Westbrook's supporters blame the lack of a supporting cast. But when every one of his teammates from last year is having a worse season than the one before (by win shares/48 minutes), that should make the MVP voters question his influence on their development.”


Another interesting issue. If the point of fielding a team and playing a season is to try to win a championship, Westbrook’s partly to blame for OKC’s lack of a real shot this summer.

“(H)is Thunder have gone from a 55-win team to something in the mid-40’s. We know the reason why the Thunder declined, too, and it's at least indirectly due to Westbrook. Because of his individual style of basketball, the team’s other superstar chose to leave last summer to go to the unselfish Warriors. MVP voters shouldn't reward a player that became even more individual-oriented after running off a star because of his own individual play.”

The essence of the current debate is at least partly centered on the role statistics play in determining value. Should a stat accumulator whose approach lessens the chance at a championship be considered the “most valuable” player? Voters and markets may have already decided. 

Oklahoma City will face Houston (and one-time MVP favorite James Harden) in the first round of the NBA Playoffs that begin this weekend. We will preview all eight first round matchups for you Friday. 

MLB Quickies from Tuesday night

A few quick notes from baseball before we call it a day…

The St. Louis Cardinals fell to 2-6 out of the gate with another blowout loss. Their 8-3 decision at the hands of the Washington Nationals brought the scoreboard to 30-9 against them the last three days , and 47-28 against them for the season. The Cards’ team ERA is now worst in the majors, which is hard to do in the National League because pitchers bat. Adam Wainwright has an ERA of 7.00 for the season, with 18 baserunners allowed (14 hits and 4 walks) in a total of 9 innings over two starts. 

Following up on our note on the Cincinnati Reds from yesterday…another win as a big dog. Cincinnati (plus 165) beat Pittsburgh 6-2. That brings the projected last-place team in the NL Central to six wins and two losses for the season, with underdog cashes at prices of plus 125, plus 165, plus 155, and now plus 165 again (along with one pick-em and one favorite spot). Cincy has now won its last three games by a combined 21-3 count, with all three coming on the road against divisional rivals who were projected to finish over .500 this season. 

Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Mets hit three home runs Tuesday in Philadelphia. That helped lead the Mets to a 14-4 rout. Clay Buchholz of the Phillies has been hit hard in both of his starts. He allowed six earned runs in 2.1 innings Tuesday, after allowing four earned runs in five innings in a 7-4 loss to the Reds. 

Thanks for spending time with us today. Back Thursday to preview those last three NHL first round series openers...and to review what happened with the “must-win” NBA teams on the final night of the regular season. If you have an comments or questions about what you read today, please drop us an email.

If you are not yet a newsletter subscriber, prepare yourself for the NHL and NBA playoff push by signing up here.

Follow us on Twitter: @VSiNLive.

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