The puck drops on the drive for the Stanley Cup on Tuesday night. TheSportsNotebook has run previews of all first-round series in both the Eastern & Western Conference. Our last piece of pre-playoff NHL analysis will be final predictions and a review of the betting lines.
I picked the first-round matchups in the preview articles, creating second-round matchups of Pittsburgh-Ottawa and Boston-NY Rangers in the East. The second round in the West is projected as Chicago-Detroit and LA Kings-Vancouver.
When it comes to the Eastern Conference I’m not going to pull any punches—I’m a Boston fan, I’m emotionally invested and I genuinely believe on the merits that this the B’s are the best team in the East. They have a good offense, and an outstanding goalie in Tuuka Raask. While the defense hasn’t been as good as I’d have liked, it’s still a strength and the individual talent is there to be even better in the playoffs.
That’s why I think Boston is going to beat Ottawa in the conference finals. Yes, Ottawa. The power of the goalie is everything in the NHL. Pittsburgh’s got problems there, we don’t know if Sidney Crosby is coming back anytime soon and it’s tailor-made for Ottawa’s brilliant Craig Anderson to lead his team to two straight postseason upsets before running into Boston.
If I were an objective fan, I’d have to concede that the more compelling series are in the West. I’ve already talked about the first-round matchups like St. Louis-Los Angeles and Vancouver-San Jose. I find the two projected semi-final matchups no less intriguing, but the Blackhawks and the Canucks have great goaltending and superior offensive talent. It would be an extraordinary conference finals and I have a feeling this is finally Vancouver’s year.
But not so much so that I’ll go against Boston. This was the Finals matchup back in 2011, it was the one I picked at the start of the season and I’ll stick to my guns as the playoffs commence. Bruins over Canucks for the Stanley Cup.
THE BETTING LINES
Here’s how the odds shake out if you’re at the betting window. We’ll run the prices for conference championships first and then those for winning the Cup.
TO WIN THE EAST
NY Rangers (10-1)
NY Islanders (15-1)
Even if you’re not as down on Pittsburgh as I am, those are just extremely tight odds for a team whose goaltending issues are a matter of mainstream consensus, even if there’s disagreement on how much difference it will make. Of course I think Ottawa would be a good play here at 15-1, given that their path to the conference finals is paved with two teams that are weak in goal (Montreal, along with Pittsburgh).
TO WIN THE WEST
San Jose (6-1)
LA Kings (7-1)
St. Louis (7-1)
I definitely like Detroit’s betting number, simply because I believe if the season would have been its usual 80 games, the Red Wings’ upward trajectory would have continued down the stretch. But as the wise saying goes, there’s no value in any bet that doesn’t cash in, and on that basis the chance to get Vancouver at 6-1 is too good to pass up.
TO WIN THE CUP
The Favorites: Pittsburgh (7-2), Chicago (4-1)
Top Challengers: Boston (8-1), Montreal (10-1), Anaheim (10-1) San Jose (12-1)
The Dark Horses: Washington (14-1), Vancouver (14-1), St. Louis (15-1), LA Kings (15-1), Minnesota (18-1), NY Rangers (20-1)
The Longshots: Toronto (25-1), NY Islanders (30-1), Detroit (30-1), Ottawa (30-1)
The very nature of the NHL playoffs argues against betting Pittsburgh or Chicago, regardless of how much you may like them. This event just has too much of a chaotic history to look at short-priced favorites. Vancouver is a good play at 14-1 and I again like Ottawa at the 30-1 price. The respect San Jose is getting is intriguing. I respect the Sharks too, but as the #6 seed in the West, they’re priced about twice as high as their seed would suggest. And it’s not like this franchise has some long record of success to fall back on (they’ve never made the Finals ,much less won the Cup).
But you know what I’d do if were in Las Vegas. Just roll out the bankroll and put it on Boston at 8-1.