Two years ago, the favored Penguins were ignominiously swept by the New York Islanders in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Neither the Pens nor Pennsylvania’s sportsbooks expect that to happen this year.
Generally deemed no better than the fourth best team in the East Division before the shortened 2021 season began, Pittsburgh emerged — by tiebreaker over the Washington Capitals — as the No. 1 seed in the division and will take on the 4th-seeded Islanders to start the postseason. The NHL had not announced a schedule for the best-of-7 series as of Wednesday morning, but it could begin Sunday, and online sportsbooks have begun posting odds.
The many Pennsylvania sportsbooks using Kambi odds (DraftKings, BetRivers, PlaySugarHouse, Unibet, Barstool, Parx, TwinSpires) opened the series with the Penguins as a -150 favorite, as did BetMGM. Those betting on the Islanders to advance and meet the winner between the Capitals or Boston Bruins were offered +121 by Kambi sites and +120 by BetMGM.
Other sites had yet to post series odds, but all provided a line for the winner of the Stanley Cup, with the Penguins generally the sixth or seventh favorite.
The best price for a Pens backer if they win their first Cup since 2017 was the +1400 from Caesars and Betfred. The odds from those sites and the Kambi sites actually deem the Bruins (+1000 to +1300) as a more likely Cup winner, even though they finished third behind Pittsburgh and Washington in the East.
The Colorado Avalanche serve as the favorite to win the title at nearly all sites , pegged at +400 by Betfred and +450 by most others. The only exception to that is Caesars, which makes the Vegas Golden Knights +400 and Colorado +500. (FOX Bet has advertised an odds boost to +350 — from +320 — for a wager that either the Penguins or Golden Knights will win the Cup.)
A lot of numbers point in Pens’ favor
It would seem Sidney Crosby & Co. got a good break in drawing the Islanders in the first round, even if one would have had to eat those same words in 2019.
But here are a few notes that would suggest sound reason for the Penguins to be favored, aside from their better regular season record:
The Penguins finished 6-2 against the Islanders in matchups this year.
The Pens have home ice advantage in the series and went 22-4-2 at PPG Paints Arena this year, while the Islanders were 11-13-4 on the road.
In the last 10 games of the regular season, Pittsburgh went 8-2 while New York limped to the finish at 3-4-3.
The Penguins also were one of the most heavily injured teams during the season, but are as healthy now as they’ve been since the first puck was dropped in January.
Longtime captain Crosby had another stellar season with 24 goals and 62 points, and his fellow star forward Evgeni Malkin is one of those back from injury. Goalie Tristan Jarry started the season slow but improved as it progressed, finishing 25-9-3 with a 2.75 GAA and .909 save percentage.
If the Islanders are to pull another upset, it will likely be through the same stingy defense they employed in 2019. Goalie Semyon Varlomov (19-11-4, with 2.04 GAA and .929 save percentage) led the NHL in shutouts, with seven in 35 starts.
Forward Mathew Barzal led the Islanders in scoring with 17 goals and 28 assists.
Team’s come a long way since January
If you saw this kind of success coming back in January for the Penguins — who were also quickly and stunningly knocked out of last year’s postseason by 12th-seeded Montreal — good for you, especially if you put your money on it.
Coach Mike Sullivan’s veteran team, with its top stars approaching their mid-30s, was priced by most sportsbooks at +400 to win the division. Pittsburgh was +1600 to +2200 to win the Stanley Cup as of four months ago.
They improved throughout the season despite the injuries, however, and got even better after the trade deadline with the addition of another oldster — 36-year-old forward Jeff Carter. He has scored nine goals in 14 games for the Penguins, more than he had in 40 games this year with the Los Angeles Kings.
With 77 points, the team easily surpassed the 67.5/68.5 that had been set as its over/under by the sportsbooks. Under this year’s NHL playoff format, that point total will matter if the Pens win their first two playoff series. The four division winners will be seeded for the semifinals according to their regular season points.
As of now, Pittsburgh’s 77 points ranks fifth in the league. The regular season is still being completed by some teams, and Toronto and Minnesota could jump ahead by the time the playoffs begin.
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