Welcome to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and welcome to the second installment of my round-by-round top betting picks. For those who missed the first edition, feel free to catch up right here.
As I did in my first-round preview, I’ll break my best bets up into three sections – team futures, Conn Smythe futures, and series winners – and I’ll make sure to touch on which wagers from previous installments are still alive.
Before we get started, a quick reminder on the revamped playoff format:
All series, regardless of round, will be best of seven. The first two playoff rounds will be played within the division, as was the entirety of the regular season. The top seed will play the fourth seed, and two will play three. The winners will square off for the division crown and a trip to the NHL’s version of the Final Four. The remaining four teams will be re-seeded by regular-season point totals, and the winners will face off in the Stanley Cup. And yes, there’s a chance two teams who play in the same division during a normal year will meet in the Cup Final.
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This group of bets is pretty simple. Who’s poised to make a run to the Stanley Cup Final, and who’s built to hoist it?
I listed four wagers before round one: Boston to reach the Final (+450) and to win the Cup (+1000), Vegas to win the Cup (+550), and Florida to reach the Final (+650). Three of those four are still alive and well, so with that in mind, here’s one more to add to the list.
Tampa Bay Lightning To Win The Stanley Cup (+475)
When I handicapped the Panthers to both knock the Lightning out in the first round, a pillar of my handicap was that the Lightning would not only be the most tired team in the playoffs after playing longer in 2020 than any other team but would also be out of sync after welcoming back their two best players – Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos – from long absences. Well, I was wrong.
Weird but true: Of the last three Stanley Cup Champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning are the first to win another playoff series after winning their Cup.
— Patrick Bacon (@TopDownHockey) May 27, 2021
Tampa Bay, while they, of course, didn’t breeze by the Panthers in round one, looked like the team that ripped through the 2020 playoffs en route to a title. Florida is a good team with a ton of top-end talent and a real ability to put pucks in the net, but the perception surrounding the series was that the Lightning should have no problem with the Panthers because they’re the Panthers. And they’re rarely ever good. That perception alone, the one that is sort of looking down on the Lightning for allowing Florida to take them to six games, has created a ton of value on the defending champs to keep the Cup in the Sunshine State one more year.
I mentioned Kucherov and Stamkos earlier. Kucherov hadn’t played a game this season until Game One against the Panthers, and all he did was rack up a modest 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in the opening round to lead all skaters. And Stamkos? He hadn’t played a game since the first week of April, and he tallied eight points (three goals, five assists) himself. Moreover, Victor Hedman and Anthony Cirelli had down regular seasons, by their standards, but both came to play in the opening round. Hedman dished out eight assists, and Cirelli had two of his own along with two goals.
The Lightning are still loaded, and they clearly did just enough to get by in the regular season, fooling us all – including me. They’re still the Lightning we all remember from the last few seasons, they’ve still got the best goalie on the planet in net, and +475 is way too strong of a price not to jump on.
Conn Smythe Award Winners
The Conn Smythe Award is given to the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Generally, I’ve got two loose guidelines to follow when wagering on this award.
Stay away from goalies. Since Mike Vernon won in 1997, there have only been four more goalies to win the award. Andrei Vasilevskiy was dominant in the playoffs last year with an 18-7 record, a .927 save percentage, and a 1.90 goals-against average. And he still didn’t win.
Focus on players who play on a team you think has a legitimate shot at winning the Cup. Only five times has a player won the award without winning the Stanley Cup, and it hasn’t happened since 2003.
All our guys from round one’s article are still alive – Auston Matthews (+1100), Mark Stone (+1400), and David Pastrnak (+3000) – and I’ve got one more to add who you may have just read about above.
Nikita Kucherov (+750)
At the risk of repeating myself earlier in this article, Kucherov hasn’t missed a beat, despite missing the entire regular season. He’s already got 11 points, seven of which came on the power play. Some may view that as a red flag, but I don’t. Tampa Bay has one of the best – if not the best – power-play units in the league, so we’ve got a really high floor with Kucherov as the go-to guy.
The return of Kuch!
Nikita Kucherov (@86Kucherov) is leading the #StanleyCup Playoffs in points after missing the entire regular season.
NHL x @LaysCanada pic.twitter.com/FYEkJ1r53L
— NHL (@NHL) May 27, 2021
I also just added Tampa Bay to our Stanley Cup futures card, and if they win the Cup again, Kucherov has, by far, the best chance to capture the Conn Smythe.
Series futures are simple; which team is going to win the best-of-seven playoff series? It doesn’t matter how many games it takes – it could be a sweep, or it could go the distance – it only matters who wins the series.
In round one, our bets went 1-1. The Islanders cashed at +125, but the Panthers fell flat at +120. But, because both were underdogs, we still profited a quarter-unit.
For round two, I’ve got another underdog on tap.
Winnipeg Jets (+150)
This is a projected line because the opening-round series between Toronto and Montreal isn’t yet over. But I’m using a projection based on the Maple Leafs advancing to the second round. Winnipeg was +150 against Edmonton in round one, so perhaps we won’t get that type of gift here in round two, but Toronto is a far better team than Edmonton, so there’s a definite possibility. In case the odds open lower, I like the Jets down to +130.
Perhaps I’m drinking a bit of the Jets’ Kool-Aid after they swept the Oilers in the opening round, considering they were pretty heavily outplayed in terms of underlying metrics. Edmonton controlled nearly 60% of the shot attempts, high-danger chances, and scoring chances yet still couldn’t find a way to win a single game. Winnipeg was pesky and timely. They played with a never-say-die attitude that helped them storm back in Games Three and Four and pull out three consecutive overtime wins. They also got incredible goaltending from the reigning Vezina Trophy winner.
In the playoffs, anything is possible with a red-hot goaltender. And Connor Hellebuyck is red-hot. He ranks second among all playoff netminders in goals saved above average (7.5), just a tenth of a point behind the best in the business, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and nearly three full goals third-place Carey Price. Hellebuyck leads all playoff goaltenders in save percentage above expected (0.023) and is one one-hundredth of a point behind Vasilevskiy in terms of wins above replacement among goalies (1.25). No other goaltender has a WAR above 0.79.
Now Winnipeg meets Toronto, who plays a very similar style to the Oilers team the Jets just swept. Of course, Toronto has far greater weapons and a deeper forward group, but they’re driven by their top six, have a bit of a suspect defensive unit, and don’t exactly have dominant goaltending. The Jets seemed to handle that style of opponent just fine in round one, and now with perhaps their best player, Nikolaj Ehlers, back in the lineup and contributing, Winnipeg looks poised for another upset.
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