by Christopher Shepard - 4/20/2006
The NHL embarks on the second leg of an exciting 2005/2006 season as the playoffs begin in high style this weekend with four exciting series taking place in the Eastern Conference. Included among the various ways of increasing your enjoyment of the sport is by wagering a few hard earned dollars on the new and improved NHL playoffs. You'll find the best value for your NHL wagering dollar if you look at the many futures available to you at your favorite offshore betting parlor. In the first of two parts we will look at the teams in the playoffs with the odds on winning the Stanley Cup and for winning the teams' conference. If you are betting on these futures keep in mind that all wagers have action with the betting capped at $500.
All lines are courtesy of our friends at Bodog Sports.
The No. 1 seeded Senators host No. 8 Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the NHL playoffs beginning Friday night at 7 p.m. When looking at this match-up, the statistics point to a sweep. These adversaries met four times this year with the Senators sweeping the season, 4-0, with a combined 16-6 score. The Senators have taken 18-of-21 games against the Lightning and in their past 14 games in Ottawa they are 13-1. No doubt the Senators have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup this year. But given their history of early exits in the playoffs and questions in the goal and on defense, it is their health rather than their speed that will determine if the Senators will make it to the finals.
Strengths: Speed kills and the Senators have it to spare. They sported an 84.7 percent penalty killing mark, good for fourth best in the NHL as well as being the fourth-best team on the power play, scoring 20.8 percent of the time. Furthermore, throughout the season the line of Jason Spezza centering Heatley and Alfredsson was among the most powerful in the league.
Weakness: Who'd ever think to call the Dominator a weakness? Dominik Hasek is 41 and injury-ridden and his replacement is 23-year-old Ray Emery. However, filling in for Hasek, Emery set an NHL record winning his first nine starts. As fast as the Senators are on offense, it is their defense that depends on injured Zdeno Chara (hand) and Chris Phillips (knee) to be healthy for the playoffs.
Odds to Win the Eastern Conference: 6/5
Odds to Win the Stanley Cup: 3/1
The No. 5 ranked Flyers truck up to No. 4 Buffalo to play in their first round playoff battle against the Sabers on Saturday at 7 p.m. For Philly fans the season has not turned out as they had expected after some strong off-season signings. The presence of Derian Hatcher and Peter Forsberg has been an inspiration for his team and indeed they will need to lean on him against the Sabres who bring amazing speed and talent to the ice. This won't be an easy series for the Flyers. Despite a plague of injuries, Philly might be too beaten up after this series to move deeper into the playoffs.
Strengths: Philadelphia is one of the biggest teams in the league and the Flyers execute well and crash the net. Philly's front line is as formidable as you will see in hockey with Mike Knuble (34 goals and 31 assists) and an excellent scorer in Gagne, one of the NHL's best-ever playmakers in Forsberg.
Weakness: Injuries are rampant on the Flyers and they'll need Forsberg to stay healthy. Philadelphia one of the worst teams in the league at penalty killing, especially at home, and they are only average on the power play.
Odds to Win the Eastern Conference: 4/1
Odds to Win the Stanley Cup: 7/1
New Jersey Devils
Arguably one of the hottest teams (ended the season on an 11-game win streak) in the NHL right now, the No. 3 New Jersey Devils host the fading No. 6 New York Rangers in the battle for the Hudson River on Saturday, April 22 at 3 p.m. The Rangers will get a good dose of aggressive forechecking from the Devils in this series. The Devils, over the second half of the season, were the best team in the NHL and with their two scoring lines and excellent coaching; they are one of the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference with their cohesive team play and defensive mindset.
Strengths: The new improved edition of the Devils comes down to coaching. Since Robinson stepped down on Dec. 19, the Devils GM Lou Lamoriello took over and the Devils haven't looked back. Martin Brodeur is a stud. The Devils are 31-14-4 since Lamoriello took over.
Weakness: They are prone to penalties. The Devils -- while strong on their front lines -- aren't the deepest in the NHL. This will pose a problem as they go deeper into the playoffs.
Odds to Win the Eastern Conference: 17/5
Odds to Win the Stanley Cup: 8/1
The No. 2 Carolina Hurricanes could be the A's of the NHL. Boasting a very low payroll and ignored by experts, the 'Canes have managed to become one of the dark horses to win the Eastern Conference this year as they bring their own brand of money-puck to the ice. The Hurricanes will start their quest at home, hosting the always-dangerous No. 7 Montreal Canadiens on Friday at 7 p.m. statistically speaking; this series favors the Hurricanes as they were 4-0 this season against Montreal by an obscene combined score of 26-9. The 'Canes are better than the Canadiens in almost every statistical category and it would indeed be a huge disappointment to Carolina if they lost their first series to Montreal.
Strengths: Next to the Sabres and a few others, the Hurricanes are one of the fastest teams in the NHL. Carolina is the best team in the NHL when scoring first, winning 87.8 percent of the time. Carolina also won 28 1-goal games, the most of any team in the NHL. Also, the Canes know how to protect a lead when they get it; through a disciplined approach to the game. They also set a franchise record this season with 112 points.
Weakness: Goalie Martin Gerber has been playing over his head somewhat, and due to his lack of Playoff experience, this might become problematic in the later rounds.
Odds to Win the Eastern Conference: 3/1
Odds to Win the Stanley Cup: 8/1
The No.4 Buffalo Sabres host No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers in first round playoff battle Saturday at 7 p.m. The speedy Sabres won three of four meetings this season and outscored the Flyers, 12-10. They finished in second place in the Northeast Division. The Sabres get a good draw and a favorable first round match-up against the banged up Flyers. The Sabres quietly go about their business and could just as quietly (and quickly) find themselves in the Eastern Conference finals.
Strengths: Buffalo leads the NHL in penalty killing and finished second in the league on the power-plays. They were the NHL's best road team with a 25-13-3 record and fourth-best record in the NHL at home with a 27-11-3 mark.
Weakness: It is hard to find a weakness in a team that is young, talented and as quick to the puck as the Sabres. But their youth could also be considered a weakness against more experienced teams in the NHL.
Odds to Win the Eastern Conference: 4/1
Odds to Win the Stanley Cup: 10/1
New York Rangers
One of the hottest teams in the NHL will face one of the coldest teams in the NHL this Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Meadowlands as the Rangers travel across the George Washington Bridge to play cross-river rival New Jersey Devils. While earlier in the season there was talk about bringing Lord Stanley's Cup to Manhattan, now it is unclear whether or not the Rangers will make it out of the first round against the resurgent Devils. One thing is clear, if the Rangers want to make it past the Devils, they'll need to minimize costly turnovers and avoidable mistakes.
Strengths: It's hard to say which player is more important to the team -- is it revitalized Jaromir Jagr or rookie goaltending sensation Henrik Lundqvist? The fact that they are on the ice together with an unheralded strong supporting cast should be enough for opponents to take notice. Like with the Devils, the Rangers' coach Tom Renney should also be credited with just as much success as the players.
Weakness: The Rangers are cold, ah, ice cold. Losing their last five games of the regular season was not the way the Rangers wanted to end an otherwise memorable campaign. They have been killing themselves on turnovers and on defense. Both areas will need major improvement if they hope to get out of the first round.
Odds to Win the Eastern Conference: 10/1
Odds to Win the Stanley Cup: 20/1
Tampa Bay Lightning
The No. 8 Tampa Bay Lightning have the unenviable task of traveling up to No.1 Ottawa on Friday night at 7 p.m., where Tampa Bay has lost 13 of their last 14 games, for the first round of the playoffs -- two years removed from defending their Stanley Cup title. As the Lightning squeaked into the playoffs in the final week of the season, it is unlikely they have much chance of progressing beyond the first round, let alone taking a game from the dominant Senators, but they'll try.
Strengths: Tampa Bay has quietly had a good year that has featured solid shooting led by center Vincent Lecavalier. Vaclav Prospal and Fredrik Modin bring some size and mobility to the Lightning as well.
Weakness: Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, the Lightning lost their Stanley Cup winning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and they are now stuck with either Sean Burke or John Grahame. This will make it very difficult for the Lightning to repeat hoisting the Cup anytime soon.
Odds to Win the Eastern Conference: 18/1
Odds to Win the Stanley Cup: 30/1
Don't let the fact that the Canadiens are a No. 7 seed lull you into complacency, come the playoffs Montreal becomes dangerous -- just ask the Bruins. Meanwhile, the Canadiens will take their "aboot" and "eh" show on the road to Carolina on Friday night at 7 p.m. where they hope to win their first game against the Hurricanes this season -- easier said than done!
Strengths: Montreal has very strong goaltending with either Cristobal Huet or David Aebischer. But they might draw their real strength from the experience of Saku Koivu, who has proven to a be a gritty playoff player, racking up 14 goals and 34 points in 40 Stanley Cup games.
Weakness: As good as their goaltending has been, Montreal's defense is too small to really go deep, or even past the first round of the playoffs. Offensively Montreal has struggled as well and will find it hard to compete with the elite of the East.
Odds to Win the Eastern Conference: 15/1
Odds to Win the Stanley Cup: 35/1
The team I think will most likely represent the Eastern Conference for a chance to hoist the Cup is the New Jersey Devils at 17/5.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's NHL picks service.