Stanley Cup playoffs: Previewing Golden Knights-Canadiens, Islanders-Lightning

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The 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs are underway and it's time to break down every second-round series from a betting perspective. The Colorado Avalanche were the betting favorites to win the 2021 Stanley Cup before the Vegas Golden Knights knocked them out.

Below are my thoughts on the conference finals matchups, along with several best bets.

Note: Series odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.

No. 3 New York Islanders (+ 220) vs. No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning (-265)

The Islanders will meet the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Playoff semifinals for the second straight season, and once again the former are sizable underdogs. The Lightning defeated the Islanders in six games as -185 series favorites last time around and this time they’re carrying even more chalk. DraftKings lists the Lightning as a -265 favorite with the Islanders coming back on the other side with + 220 odds, which suggests that the Lightning will win the series approximately 70% of the time; I don’t believe there’s much value in betting either of those lines. By my estimation, the Lightning will win the series about 74% of the time, which equates to odds of -285. There is some value in betting them to win the series, but shop around and try to find the best available odds.

The same goes if you’re looking to take the underdog here. Don’t take the first price you see. It’s a bet that’s likely to lose given the implied 30-percent chance that the Islanders have, so bettors might as well get the best available odds. If there’s ever a time to shop around and take advantage of the many options that are available, it’s now when there are so few betting opportunities. However, while one sportsbook might offer bettors great series odds relative to the rest of the shops around, don’t count the rest out. There are good bets to find at every shop. 

For example, I estimate that the Lightning will win the series 4-2 about 21% of the time, which works out to odds of + 375. FanDuel is offering + 380, which isn’t worth betting, but William Hill and Bet MGM are both offering + 400, which is worth considering. Don’t stop there, though, as you’ll find DraftKings lists the prop at + 425. That’s a good bet in which I perceive myself to have a two -percent edge over the bookmaker. There are many different ways that a best-of-seven series can play out, and this is a rather specific and unlikely pick, but it’s a bet that should win more than any shop’s odds imply; how much value you get depends on the price. Just like the other options available, simply comparing odds across sportsbooks before betting will put a bettor in a more favorable position long term.

Additionally, different sportsbooks offer different markets, and over at Bet MGM bettors can bet on the top goal scorer in the series. The favorite is Nikita Kucherov at + 550 but Brayden Point isn’t far behind at + 750. Brock Nelson and Mathew Barzal are each listed at + 800. Point offers the best value of those four players. He’s been a force in the playoffs and, according to Evolving Hockey, he’s tied for first in goals per 60 minutes with Kyle Palmieri who has really caught fire. Palmieri is listed at + 2200 to score the most goals in the series. Don’t look past Steven Stamkos at + 1200, though. The Lightning will likely score more goals in the series than the Islanders and Stamkos scored goals at a higher rate than any Islanders player during the regular season. Only Point, Palmieri and Alex Killorn have scored at a higher rate in the playoffs and I didn’t mention the latter at + 1400 because he’s been finding the back of the net at twice the rate he was in the regular season and it’s probably not sustainable.

NYI-TB

No. 4 Montreal Canadiens (+ 375) vs. No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights (-500)

There definitely seems to be a sense of jealousy amongst hockey fans when they look at the Vegas Golden Knights and what they’ve accomplished around the league. Don’t get me wrong, there are supporters of the team all over the world, but they’re an easy bandwagon to jump on. Most organizations could only dream of the type of success that the Golden Knights and their fans have experienced. However, in a few short years, the Golden Knights have gone from being the scrappy underdogs that could to being an absolute megapower. Their opponents fit the scrappy underdog tag nicely, though, despite being the most storied team in hockey history. If there’s one organization or fanbase that isn’t phased by what the Golden Knights have accomplished in four seasons, it’s the Montreal Canadiens … and their 24 Stanley Cup victories. 

DraftKings currently lists the Golden Knights as -500 series favorites with the Canadiens coming back on the other side at + 375. That equates to about an 80-20 split. If the Canadiens win the series, it would be the biggest upset in more than a decade of playoff hockey since 2010 when the Canadiens upset the Washington Capitals, who were -645 series favorites. This team certainly has the ingredients to pull off an upset and add to the franchise’s lore. Unfortunately, it looks like they will be without the services of arguably their best defenseman, Jeff Petry, for at least the series opener. With this news, it’s all the more difficult to envision the Canadiens avoiding defeat on Monday. Especially after watching the Golden Knights handle the Colorado Avalanche as if they were the Winnipeg Jets.

The Golden Knights are currently listed as a -265 moneyline favorite for Game 1, and I would be enticed to take the Canadiens at + 220 but this isn’t a great spot. I actually expect that the odds will continue to trend in favor of the home team. The Golden Knights shouldn’t be any more than a -200 favorite here, but I don’t necessarily think that every other bettor feels that way and therefore I’m in no rush to bet on the Canadiens. Anyone wishing to back the underdog here, like myself, might be better off waiting until closer to puck drop to do so. If I’m going to lose a bet, I better have gotten the best of the odds. Bettors can currently find + 230 at FanDuel and William Hill, but I would wait for a bigger price before striking, unless Petry is ready to go in time for the game, of course.

The same goes for the series, in which I estimate the Golden Knights will move onto the Stanley Cup Final approximately 76% of the time. The Canadiens should win the series more than the current odds imply, but will this be the first game that they manage to steal? Maybe, but I believe there will be a better time to get involved -- and that’s likely after they fall down 0-1 in the series. Sure, + 375 is a pretty good price, and bettors can find as good as + 400 at William Hill Sportsbook, but there are 35 different ways that a best-on-seven series can work out for a team and 15 of them involve losing the first game. I estimate that the Canadiens’ chances of winning the series would be about 16% if that happens, which works out to odds of + 525. Considering their odds right now, once again it might be better to wait for a different point in the series to jump in at much bigger odds. The Golden Knights are a juggernaut, and they might win the Stanley Cup, but they’ll have to get past Carey Price and a roster full of veteran skaters who know exactly what it takes to win in the playoffs.

MTL-VEG

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