NHL Playoffs Betting: Lessons Learned in 2014
by Trevor Whenham - 5/8/2014
The NHL playoffs are heading into the brutal middle stretch. Teams are getting tired, the action is getting even more intense than it has been, and even though we are not even halfway to the hoisting of the Cup yet it seems like the regular season ended ages ago. This is a good time, then, to look back at what has happened so far to see what has stood out and what we have learned so far:
Home ice an uneven advantage: There is a lot of mythology surrounding the importance of home-ice advantage in the playoffs. The public typically overstates the significance, but in the first round in the West it certainly mattered. Home teams had an impressive 20-6 record in the first round. Three of those six home losses came in the L.A. vs. San Jose battle, too, so the other three series saw the home teams go an even more impressive 16-3. The huge advantage of geography hasn't extended to the East, though - home teams were just 12-10 in the first round, and only in the Philly-New York series did the home team win a majority of the games.
The Kings are playing for keeps: I live in Calgary, so I had a front-row seat to watch Darryl Sutter run the Flames into the ground. Amazingly, it seems that he learned from that experience. He has a Cup already in L.A., and after one of the more remarkable comebacks in league history after falling into a 3-0 hole against the Sharks it seems like he could be on his way to another. The goaltending has been predictably excellent, and the team is playing with a purpose and unified vision that is particularly impressive. They have now won six in a row, and unless Anaheim wakes up in a hurry that streak could continue to at least eight.
Maybe Fleury can be a playoff goalie after all: The well-deserved knock against the Pittsburgh Penguins and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in recent years was that he was not a goalie who could carry this team in the playoffs. They obviously have plenty of talent up front, but in recent years they have fallen short of expectations, and Fleury has played a big role in that. Management has continued to support their keeper, though, and this year he is rewarding their faith. His numbers are more than solid, and with two shutouts so far in three games in the second round - albeit against the offensively-inept Rangers - he has really found his mojo. I'm still not convinced the Penguins can win a series after this one, but things look better than they have recently.
Hot coaches don't rule the playoffs: In the NHL more than some leagues we attach a lot of importance to the head coach. A strong head coach can, as the theories go, really elevate a team at this very tough time. When two teams are otherwise evenly-matched the edge can seem to go to the better-coached one. It's why guys like Scotty Bowman won everything they touched. That hasn't been the case this year, though - at least not in terms of the hottest coaches. The three finalists for the Jack Adams trophy as coach of the year were announced this week as Patrick Roy of Colorado, Jon Cooper of Tampa Bay and Mike Babcock of Detroit (who, incredibly, has only been nominated once before and has never won). By the time they were nominated all three had already been eliminated from the postseason. The coaches aren't the only ones who have had issues carrying forward regular-season success into the postseason - only three of the top 11 scorers in the league made it as far as the second round.
Fans getting their money's worth: The first round can be marked by mismatches and quick ends to series. That certainly hasn't been the case this year. Three of the eight first-round series went to Game 7 - all played on the same day for the first time in league history. Three more series went to Game 6. This has been a very tight and competitive series, and the start of the second round hasn't indicated that that is about to change.
Parise is earning his cash: For most of his two seasons in Minnesota it has felt like Zach Parise hasn't quite been doing enough to justify his massive contract. Finally, though, Parise has emerged in these playoffs as the force he is being paid to be - and the force he so often was in New Jersey. He has 13 points through 10 games so far, and he has had an impact well beyond even those lofty stats. Minnesota still only barely survived their opening series, and they are in very tough in the second round against Chicago, but they absolutely would not be here without Parise. If you had to pick an MVP in terms of impact to his team so far in the playoffs, it would be tough to look past the American.
Anaheim hates bettors:
While the Ducks have done enough to make it through to the second round so far, they have done an absolutely horrible job against the spread. Puckline
bettors on this team have just two wins in eight games. The problem is simple - they have just a 4-4 record, and three of the four wins have been by a
single goal. On the flipside, the Blackhawks and Kings have combined strong play with strong betting performance. The Kings have covered the spread in
their last six wins after their lousy start in the first three games. The Blackhawks are also 6-3 ATS, and they had covered the puckline four games in a
row before the surprising blowout loss to Minnesota last time out.
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