NHL First Round Series Predictions and Betting Odds
The 2022 regular season is in the books for the NHL, and the league could not be heading in a better direction. The transparency throughout the league and how many contenders for the Stanley Cup the NHL has right now makes it one of the healthiest leagues in all of sports.
This year also saw the most goals since the 1995-96 season and featured eight 100-point players throughout the NHL. The Eastern Conference was oozing with elite teams, having all eight playoff teams eclipsing the 100-point barrier, which is a coveted position in the NHL as a franchise. It’s the first time in a regular season all eight teams have done that in one conference.
In stating that, it could not be a more difficult year to make playoff predictions from the Eastern Conference, as many good points could be made for all eight teams. It’s a shame some fan bases will have first round exits after such extraordinary seasons. The Western Conference has a bit more gap between contenders and pretenders, Colorado is the clear-cut favorite to come out of the west. The Avs also have the best odds to win the Stanley Cup at +350, but all too many times in the NHL have we seen the top seed have early exits; it is unlike any sport in that regard where upsets happen almost every year in the playoffs. Colorado was the best team in the regular season last year but lost in the second round. Let’s take a deeper look at a few matchups heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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Toronto Maple Leafs (54-21-7, 115 Points) vs Tampa Bay Lightning (51-23-8, 110 Points)
Head-to-head: Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1-1
Odds to win the series: Toronto -120 Tampa Bay +100
Stanley Cup Odds: Toronto +900 Tampa Bay +1100
The cruelty for Leafs fans to face the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions after such an outstanding season hardly seems fair. The Leafs will be depending on the NHL leading goal scorer Auston Matthews to continue his historic season but will be in tough against one of the best defensive teams in the NHL. The Tampa Bay Lightning have arguably the best goalie and defense combo in the NHL.
When analyzing the series, I look directly at the matchup in net between Jack Campbell and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Choosing a winner I believe comes down to this matchup, and there is no better goaltender when it comes to the playoffs than Vasilevskiy. Between 2020’s Cup Final series and Tampa’s run to repeat as champs last year, the netminder registered five straight shutouts in series-clinching games. Over the past two springs combined, he registered an otherworldly 1.90 goals against average. If Vasilevskiy is anywhere close to those numbers, Toronto will be in tough against the defending champs.
At forward, the top three lines on either side could be considered a wash, with a great powerplay on both sides, depth scoring and superstars to boot, and I can see no real advantage at forward other than the Lightning’s experience in the playoffs. The defensive edge must be given to Tampa Bay; it would be hard to think that any defenseman in the league could do a better job than Victor Hedman to shut down the other team’s top forwards and drive the offense from the back end.
In conclusion, I believe Tampa Bay will take this hard-fought series in six games.
Goals For: Toronto - 3.80 (2nd) Tampa Bay - 3.48 (8th)
Goals Against: Toronto - 3.07 (20th) Tampa Bay - 2.78 (6th)
Power Play: Toronto - 27.3% (1st) Tampa Bay - 23.9% (8th)
Penalty Kill: Toronto - 82.1% (8th) Tampa Bay - 80.6% (11th)
Carolina Hurricanes (54-20-8, 116 points) vs Boston Bruins (51-26-5, 107 points)
Head-to-Head: Carolina Hurricanes 3-0
Odds to win series: Carolina -122 Boston +100
Stanley Cup Odds: Carolina +1200 Boston +1600
Despite the fact that the combined score of the three meetings between Carolina and Boston this season ended up being 16-1 Hurricanes, the odds here are virtually 50-50.
The big concern heading into the opening round for Carolina is the uncertainty of starting goalie Frederik Anderson. Winning a series without your starting goalie against one of the hottest teams in the NHL this past month seems like a tall task. The Hurricanes have been the No. 1 team at limiting their opponents’ shots, which will allow any goalie the opportunity to be serviceable with a defensive minded team like the Canes Infront of him.
Boston has gone with an even 41 games apiece for each of their goalies, and both are rather unproven in the playoffs. This will level the playing field for the goaltending matchup between these two teams. The X Factor in this matchup is how much Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have left in the tank. These three form arguably the most consistent and hardest to play against line in hockey the past 5 years, and this line will be the deciding factor in this tightly contested matchup.
I like the Hurricanes in 7 games.
Edmonton Oilers (49-27-6, 104 points) vs Los Angeles Kings (44-27-11, 99 points)
Head-to-Head: Edmonton 3-1
Odds to win series: Edmonton -270 Los Angeles +185
Stanley Cup Odds: Edmonton +1800 Los Angeles +6000
I am sure for most people this is the lock of the first round. With Drew Doughty out for the playoffs for the Los Angeles Kings, it has led to the Oilers to be heavy favorites. If the Oilers do somehow lose, their franchise might explode, and the pressure is on Edmonton.
An X Factor if someone wants to make an argument for the Kings is the veteran presence of Jonathan Quick, and all hockey fans know he can not only steal series but take teams to the Stanley Cup, as seen in the past. Connor McDavid is the best player in the entire world and will be sure to expose a thin defensive core on the Kings. The Kings have been decimated throughout the season by injury, so learning to win with a “next man up” mentality is part of their DNA.
It’s a classic David and Goliath, but the pressure is always on Goliath and history has shown this Edmonton team to be ill-equipped to deal with these kinds of stakes as it has won just one playoff round since McDavid’s arrival. I am taking the Edmonton in five games as my strongest pick of the first round.
The best time of the year for NHL fans should not disappoint. With some marquee matchups and storylines across both conferences, fans and bettors alike will have their hands full. Is this the Penguins last run with Crosby, Malkin and Letang? Can the Leafs get over the first-round hump? Will the President Trophy winner prove history wrong and win both the regular season and playoffs? Which franchise will be the sleeper of the playoffs like the Montreal Canadiens last year? It all starts tonight, so get excited.
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