The 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs are here and it's time to break down every series from a betting perspective.
Here are my thoughts on each series, along with several best bets.
Note: Series odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.
1. Carolina Hurricanes (-250) vs. 4. Nashville Predators (+ 196)
Heading into the season, I pegged the Hurricanes as a team that could wrestle the division title from the Lightning, and I feel pretty good about that assessment in hindsight. On the other hand, I projected the Predators to be on the fringe of the playoff picture. Though they did qualify, I believe they are still the mediocre team I projected they would be. Yes, the Predators won the final two games of the regular season against the Hurricanes by a combined score of 8-1, but one has to wonder how much the Predators’ last stand was fueled by desperation. Both teams rested a lot of starters in the final game.
The Hurricanes had owned the season series up to that point, winning all six previous meetings in dominant fashion. The Predators’ newfound confidence gives me pause. Still, the Predators’ success has been driven largely by goaltender Juuse Saros. He has a .927 save percentage for the season and has been even better than that since the beginning of April. Can Saros steal the series? You bet. Can the Predators sustain their winning ways given their underlying metrics? I’m less convinced, especially because they’re facing a top-10 team on offense and defense.
According to Evolving Hockey, the Hurricanes grade as the third-best team by expected goals on offense and the 16th-best team on defense. The Hurricanes’ average defensive metrics would be concerning if not for the fact that they’ve allowed fewer goals per 60 minutes than all but two teams. Conversely, they score at a higher rate than most teams but sit just outside the top 10 in goals per 60 minutes in all situations. It could be just poor puck luck, or it could be a signal that the team lacks finishing ability. Either way, they’re better off than the Predators in those categories and have two very capable goaltenders in Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic. The latter has been the more consistent and reliable, and he’s a big reason the Hurricanes won the division despite Mrazek’s injury-plagued campaign.