NHL Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions and Series Odds
The Eastern Conference of the NHL is on a roll heading into the playoffs this year. Teams from the group have won the last three Stanley Cups, and this year the very heavy favorite to win it all is in the conference, and so is the third choice. And neither of those teams are the two teams that have won those last three Cups and are capable of winning again. It's a stacked group, and - you heard it here - it is going to be the home of the Stanley Cup champion again. Here's a look at how the conference playoffs shape up. (odds are from BetOnline)
Tampa Bay (-340 to win series) vs. Columbus (+285): We could spend a few thousand words talking about how dominant Tampa has been this year, and we wouldn't even fully cover it. They had a season for the ages this year. Their 62 wins was tied for the most ever in a season. They had 21 more points than the second-best teams in the league. That's 10 wins and a tie! They came from behind to win a record 29 times. Nikita Kucherov's 128 points were the most by any player in 20 years, and he led the first team to have three 40 goal scorers in 23 years and the first to have three 90 point scorers in 13 years. Their power play success rate of 28.1 percentage is the best ever in an 82-game season and the best overall in 31 seasons.
These stats go on and on and on, and it's why they are such a heavy favorite to win the Cup - they sit at +225, with Calgary next at +800. Columbus went all in at the trade deadline and fought hard down the stretch to come out on top in a very tough race - Montreal set a record for the most points ever for a team that missed the playoffs. But Columbus is very outmatched here. And after several years of playoff disappointment, at some point or another the Lightning are going to be very focused and ready. Tampa Bay will win this series. Handily. And, very likely, the conference as well. And the Cup, for that matter. They are that good.
New York Islanders (+120) vs. Pittsburgh (-140): This one is interesting. The Islanders secured home-ice advantage in this series, were stronger down the stretch, and allowed the fewest goals in the league, yet they are underdogs here. It makes sense, though. The Islanders are as big as surprises get this year. They weren't seen as a playoff contender by basically anyone after losing their only superstar in free agency and having questions from the net on out. But they started strong and managed to hold on. They have been impressive, but they are inexperienced and overachieving. They have nothing to lose, but they are up against a team that won the Cup in 2016 and 2017 and has the best player on the planet leading the way.
If Pittsburgh can be even a shadow of their best selves, they will come out on top. But they have looked very mortal this year and aren't as easy to trust as they have been. Pittsburgh is the more likely winner, but not by much, and the Islanders could be worth a look at this price. It doesn't feel like either of these teams are relevant in the big picture, though.
Boston (-159) vs. Toronto (+139): Toronto fans aren't going to be happy about what I am about to write. But Toronto fans live in a state of perpetual denial and delusion. Toronto has botched the job when it comes to building a contender. They are offensively gifted, but they are young and defensively challenged - and challenged is a very kind way of putting it. They have limped down the stretch, with just four wins in their last 14 games. And it does not seem like the people who need to be happy are very happy right now - on the ice or behind the bench. They have allowed more goals than every playoff team but San Jose and rely on outscoring their opponents. But that isn't an approach that works well in the postseason as a general rule, and they are up against a Boston team that is very sound defensively - they have allowed the second-fewest goals among the East's playoff teams.
Boston is the third choice to win the Cup at +900, behind only Tampa and Calgary. Toronto is far back at +2000. This series doesn't feel like it will be that close. Toronto won't get swept, but they won't win, either. This series price is more than fair for Boston.
Washington (-150) vs. Carolina (+130): The defending champs face a very plucky upstart. Carolina rallied around the insanity of their post-game celebrations at home and rode the excitement right into the playoffs. They were riding the longest postseason drought in the sport before now, so it's a remarkable accomplishment.
But Washington is deeper and dramatically more experienced in the playoffs. Carolina will test the champs, and this will be a fun series to watch, but in the end Washington's class will carry them through this series and probably right into the Eastern final - which they will lose to Tampa.
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