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 are the betting favorites to win the 2021 Stanley Cup.
Below are my thoughts on each series, along with several best bets.
Note: Series odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.
No. 2 Vegas Golden Knights (+ 170) vs. No. 1 Colorado Avalanche (-125)
Since the beginning of the regular season, the Golden Knights and Avalanche have been on a collision course and, outside of fans from Minnesota and St. Louis, this is the matchup that everyone wanted to see. However, it’s being priced as if it’s a pretty big mismatch, and I just don’t think that’s the case.
The Avalanche dominated the Blues in Round 1 while the Golden Knights struggled to put away the Wild, but that’s how sharp bettors expected things to turn out more often than not. The Golden Knights had trouble with the Wild all season long, so the fact that it took them seven games to get the job done isn’t all that surprising. They match up quite well against the Avalanche, though.
The two teams split the regular season series 4-4, which is promising for anyone that is considering a bet on the underdog here. What will entice bettors to do so even more is learning that the Golden Knights actually controlled expected goals in six of the eight matchups and shot attempts in four of eight. Overall, the Avalanche owned slightly more than 50% of the shot attempts and expected goals, but it was very close. I expect both teams to have stretches where they dictate the play and look like the superior team, but in the end, I anticipate this being a fairly evenly-matched series. The Avalanche have more skill spread throughout their lineup, and their superstars have a much higher ceiling relative to that of the Golden Knights’ core group, but Marc-Andre Fleury is playing some of the best hockey of his career and the gap isn’t so big that the series should be priced the way it is.
I’m backing the Golden Knights in the series opener at + 160 or better on the moneyline (I was even able to find some + 165 and + 170 early on Sunday morning). My projected line for game one is -145 in favor of the Avalanche, which translates to a 59% chance that the Golden Knights lose the game. However, they should win the game about 41% of the time and given that their odds suggest that they will only win approximately 38% of the time, I’m comfortable betting on value here with the road team. Bettors could opt to take the series price -- + 170 at DraftKings -- but it’s a lot easier for a team to win one game than it is to win four games out of seven, so why anybody would choose to take + 170 on the Golden Knights to win a series when they could find a comparable price on them just to win game one doesn’t really make any sense. There’s no value in doing so anyway, based on my estimation below.
No. 3 Tampa Bay Lightning (-139) vs. No. 1 Carolina Hurricanes (+ 114)
This is another great matchup, and one that hockey fans should really enjoy, as it’s going to be a really fast-paced series between two very talented teams.
However, as good as the Carolina Hurricanes are, and despite their home-ice advantage, the Lightning have Nikita Kucherov -- and he’s proven to be too much for his opponents time and time again. In Round 1, Kucherov tallied 11 points in just six games. The two teams split the season series, picking up four wins a piece, but it’s hard to draw any valuable insights from those games given that Kucherov wasn’t a part of any of them.
If we’re just looking at these teams through the lens of expected goals or shot attempts, we would probably come to the conclusion that these teams are very similar -- and we would be right. However, the Lightning have far more high-end skill up front and on defense than the Hurricanes do, and not many teams can say that. If we were to take Kucherov out of the equation, this series would be much closer to a coin flip. Alex Nedejlkovic was great in Round 1 against the Predators, but he didn’t necessarily outplay Juuse Saros. He’s going to have to outplay Andrei Vasilevskiy, though, and that’s not going to be easy. He was arguably as good as Vasilevskiy in the regular season, though, so there’s hope.
What does concern me -- in terms of how well the Hurricanes will match up against the Lightning -- is that they are a rather undisciplined team, which is something I talked about a lot before the playoffs. Sending the Lightning to the power play too many times is what ultimately led to the Panthers being eliminated in Round 1, and if the Hurricanes don’t clean up their game, this series could be an even bigger mismatch than it is as things currently stand. Any chance the Hurricanes have of winning this series will almost certainly rest on whether or not they can take fewer penalties than the Lightning, and I am skeptical given what we’ve seen. The Lightning play the game in a way that often leads to teams committing infractions in an effort to slow them down. Carolina needs to play that way as well.
The Lightning only controlled 47% of the shot attempts and 48% of expected goals in the season series, but once again, it’s tough to judge the team on those performances given the fact that they didn’t have their superstar forward. This is a totally different team with Kucherov and Steven Stamkos back in the mix.
It looks like I’ll be sitting out the series opener, as I make the Lightning a -110 favorite and that’s about where the line sits right now. If the Lightning’s odds move to + 100, I will probably get involved at that point. I do think there is value in laying -140 or better on the Lightning to win the series, which is available at DraftKings. That price implies that the Lightning will only win the series about 58% of the time and my estimate sits two percentage points higher than that.
No. 3 New York Islanders (+ 180) vs. No. 2. Boston Bruins (-230)
A few months ago, this wouldn’t have been considered the mismatch that it is now, but that was before the Boston Bruins added Taylor Hall (and some other pieces) to the puzzle.
They outscored teams 3.4 to 1.9 after the April 12th trade deadline and that continued into the playoffs where they outscored the Capitals by a rate of 2.9 - 1.8 on a per-60-minute basis in Round 1. Their underlying numbers suggest that they’re for real, as expected scoring rates match goals for and against. The Bruins owned 60% of the expected goals at five-on-five against the Capitals in their first-round series.
It’s been a different story for the Islanders, who really slipped down the stretch, falling all the way to fourth place after leading the division in standings points -- and that’s because they’ve been mediocre to just plain bad. The Islanders are not a strong puck-possession team, and they aren’t going to overwhelm anybody with skill, but they can definitely annoy the hell out of a team, like they did the Penguins. They’re also well coached, and they’ve got two pretty good goaltenders in Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin. Despite being generally outplayed by the Penguins, owning only 40% of the shot attempts at five-on-five in the series, they managed to own about 46% of expected goals.
Bettors should expect the Bruins to dictate the play in this series, the way they did against the Capitals, and the way they did against the Islanders in the regular season following their acquisition of Hall. The Bruins went 3-5 against the Islanders, however, they lost the first five meetings prior to the trade deadline and two of those games went to overtime. The Bruins won the next three meetings. Overall, though, the Bruins played well against the Islanders in the season series, they just weren’t rewarded with good shooting and saving numbers in earlier games. Boston controlled 57% of the shot attempts and 55% of expected goals against the Islanders in the regular season.
By my estimation, the Bruins will win the series approximately 79% of the time, and cover the series spread (1.5 games) about 64% of the time. The latter translates to a fair line of roughly -175 and with sportsbooks offering the series spread at around -135 (-136 at DraftKings) is where I’m putting my money prior to the series opener, but there several ways you can bet this if you favor of the Bruins as much as I do. There are several exact series outcomes that offer value, like betting the Bruins to win the series in four games at + 625. While it’s very unlikely to happen, it isn’t a bad bet considering I believe it should be priced closer to 5-1.