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13 April 2015
By Aaron Todd
If you’re a hockey fan, last Saturday was one of the most exciting nights of the sports year. The NCAA men’s hockey tournament ended in spectacular fashion, with Providence College winning its first national championship in a thrilling come-from-behind victory over overwhelming favorite Boston University. Meanwhile, in the NHL, teams were fighting for the last few playoff spots, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin on Wednesday.
Hockey is a tough sport to bet on because it can be very unpredictable, but that’s part of what makes it so fun. While I wish sportsbooks would offer more betting options (Where are odds on who will score the most goals or amass the most penalty minutes? Or a Grand Salami for the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs?), there are still plenty of wagering options for the upcoming Stanley Cup run. Here are my top-10 postseason hockey bets for the 2015 season.
10. Pittsburgh (+155) at New York Rangers – Game 1 (bet365 Sportsbook & Racebook)
The Rangers clinched the President’s Trophy — awarded to the team with the best regular season record — almost a week ago. They’ve had a spot in the playoffs for weeks, and knew they were going to make the playoffs a month or two prior to that.
The Penguins, meanwhile, had to win their game on Saturday night to clinch the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. While they’ve limped into the playoffs (they lost four straight games heading into the final game of the season), they still have perhaps the most talented player in a generation in Sydney Crosby. I like the Rangers to win the series, but I also like getting Pittsburg at +155 in Game 1 of this series.
9. Ottawa/Montreal Over 5.0 (+105) – Game 1 (bet365)
Betting the over in a game involving Montreal goaltender Carey Price doesn’t sound like a smart proposition. Price led the league in goals against average (1.96), save percentage (.933) and wins (44) this season, and he’s likely to have a stellar Stanley Cup run.
That said, he hasn’t been very sharp lately, allowing 15 goals in his last five games for a much more pedestrian .890 save percentage. With the Senators boasting the second-most prolific offense in the Eastern Conference, there’s a very good chance Ottawa scores at least two goals in this game. I think Montreal is going to win, so I’m taking the over in this game, because if the Senators score two goals and lose, the worst I could do is push. It’s like I’m already freerolling.
8. Chicago (+100) at Nashville – Game 1 (Titan Bet)
If you look at the price for the Blackhawks/Predators series at most major online sportsbooks, Chicago is a favorite, despite ceding home ice advantage to Nashville. But if you look at the Game 1 lines, Chicago is an even-money underdog.
Neither team in this series has much momentum, with the Predators entering the playoffs on a three-game losing streak, while the Blackhawks have lost four straight. These teams haven’t faced each other since the end of 2014, but the Blackhawks were 3-1 (including a shootout win) over the Predators this year, splitting their two road games.
7. Minnesota at St. Louis Under 5.0 (-120) – Game 1 (bet365)
While these teams averaged a 5.4-goal total in the regular season this year, both teams managed five or fewer total goals in seven of their final 10 regular season games. Playoff hockey tends to be tight, and I think this series will start off slowly. I’ll take the under and pay the extra vig.
6. Detroit (+160) vs. Tampa Bay – Series (5Dimes Casino and Sportsbook)
Detroit posted a horrendous 4-10 record in shootouts this season, easily the worst among all playoff teams. The Philadelphia Flyers were the only team in the NHL to fare worse in shootouts, going 3-11. So it goes without saying that the Red Wings are thrilled that no games in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs will be decided by a shootout.
While the Lightning went 3-1 in the season series, including (surprise, surprise) a shootout win, the last time these two teams met, the Red Wings posted a 4-0 win. I think this is going to be a tight series that will go at least six, if not seven games, so I’ll take the Red Wings for the higher payout.
5. New York Islanders (+140) vs. Washington – Series (5Dimes)
Once again, this series price just looks like too much value to pass on. The Islanders won more games than the Capitals this year, though because the NHL has a terrible points system, they finished behind them in the standings and therefore don’t have home ice advantage. While they split the season series, one of the Islanders’ losses came in a shootout.
It seems like the only edge the Capitals have in this series is home ice, and I don’t think a big enough edge to ignore the +140 payout you can get on the Islanders.
4. Montreal (-155) vs. Ottawa – Series (5Dimes)
As someone who grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada on CBC, I hate to see Canada on Canada violence in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That said, this is the first round matchup I’m most excited about watching.
As stated earlier in this column, I think Price is going to carry the Canadiens deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year. Once a goalie gets hot in hockey, it’s hard to change the momentum. I’m not a huge fan of the price on this series, but I think Montreal rolls, so I’m willing to pay it.
3. Montreal to win Eastern Conference title +500 (bet365)
It’s always a good idea to do some line shopping if you’re going to be betting on sports, but nowhere is it more important than futures betting. Want to bet on the Senators to win the Eastern Conference title? At William Hill, you’ll get an 18/1 payout, more than twice what you’ll get at bet365, where the Senators are listed at 8/1. As someone who picked the Canadiens to beat the Senators in the first round, I definitely wouldn’t recommend that play at 8/1, but could see some value in doing it at 18/1.
But I think the best value on the board is the Canadiens at 5/1 at bet365. The Rangers are the favorites for good reason, but I think Price has a slight edge over Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, the Canadiens have one of the best home ice advantages in the league (though they’ll only have it in a maximum of three games in the series) and there’s no value in betting on the Rangers, whose best price is 3/1 at Titan Bet.
2. Nashville to win Western Conference title +700 (William Hill Sportsbook & Racebook)
The Predators certainly aren’t favorites to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals — they’re not even the favorite to advance past the first round, and I already picked against them in Game 1 of their series against the Blackhawks. What I like about this team, however, is its balanced offensive attack. Eight players on this team scored 15 or more goals this season, and those same eight players averaged more than 0.5 points per game. It’s going to be hard for opposing teams to pick a player or a line to shut down because of there are so many players capable of putting the puck in the net. Pekka Rinne has had a heavy work load in goal, starting 64 games this year, so he’s used to playing almost every night, as he is likely to do during the Predators’ playoff run. As long as he isn’t burned out to start the playoffs, I like Nashville’s chances, especially at 7/1.
1. Montreal to win the Stanley Cup +1000 (bet365)
The last time Montreal won the Stanley Cup, I wasn’t too pleased about it. In 1993, the Canadiens easily dispatched the Los Angeles Kings 4-1. I was disappointed because I wanted to see Wayne Gretzky win the Cup again, and as a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, I was trained well to despise the Canadiens and couldn’t root for them, even though the Kings beat the Leafs in the conference finals. But now, 22 years later, I’m rooting for any Canadian team to win. No, I didn’t grow up in Canada, but being just a few minutes away from the border helped me understand just how important hockey is to Canadians, and it’s hard not to root for a Canadian team to win it. Behind Price, I think Montreal has the best shot, and I like the 10/1 payout you can get at bet365.
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