Betting Preview for 24-Team NHL Playoff Qualifying Round

(photo credit: USA TODAY Sports)

The NHL is set to return to action with a 24-team playoff format. Each conference will have 12 teams represented, with seeding based on points percentage earned to date and a round-robin tournament for each conference’s top four seeds. In this article, we’ll take a look at the first-round matchups and betting odds between the bottom eight playoff teams in each conference.

For more on the NHL’s ‘Return To Play Plan,’ click here.

Let’s first take a look at the odds to win the Stanley Cup, per FanDuel Sportsbook.

*All odds in this article per FanDuel Sportsbook as of June 9, 2020, and subject to change.

Odds to win the Stanley Cup

At the time the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Boston Bruins had the most points in the league. At the time, the Bruins had 100 points and were the only team to have reached the century mark. The St. Louis Blues, who beat the Bruins in last season’s Stanley Cup Final, had the second-most points in the league with 94.

In addition to futures odds to win the Stanley Cup, FanDuel Sportsbook has released prices for each qualifying series matchup.

Eastern Conference:

Western Conference:

The 16 teams playing in the opening qualifying round will play best-of-five series. The top four teams in each conference have earned byes to the next round, but they won’t be sitting idle while the other teams compete. The top four teams will play an in-conference round-robin tournament to determine their seeding.

In the Eastern Conference, it’s the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, and Philadelphia Flyers with byes. In the Western Conference, the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and Dallas Stars have byes.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the matchups and betting odds for each qualifying round series, starting with the Eastern Conference.

No. 5 Penguins (-205) vs. No. 12 Canadiens (+166)

The Pittsburgh Penguins have arguably the softest matchup in the qualifying round, as they play the Montreal Canadiens and that’s why Pittsburgh is a -205 favorite to advance. Further helping Pittsburgh’s cause is that the team will get forward Jake Guentzel, who was having a very good season before being injured. With the line of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Guentzel back together, it will be hard to bet against the Penguins in this round., especially with Montreal’s defense being iffy.

The Montreal Canadiens don’t have much going for them, but they do have a goaltender capable of being the best in the league on any given night. That’s Carey Price. Should Price be able to get hot and shut down the offensive firepower that Pittsburgh has, Montreal could have a chance. That might be the team’s only chance to get past the Penguins., but it does help that the opening series is only best of five rather than best of seven.

No. 6 Hurricanes (-136) vs. No. 11 Rangers (+112)

At +112, the New York Rangers could be in line to provide some plus-money value for bettors looking for an opening-round upset. As we just talked about with the Canadiens, sometimes all you need in the NHL playoffs is a hot goalie. In the case of the Rangers, they have a couple of goaltenders with the ability to shut down the opposition. We’re talking about the experienced Henrik Lundqvist and rookie Igor Shesterkin. Now that Shesterkin is healed after an injury he suffered from a car accident, he’ll likely get the start and he’s very good. The Rangers also have Alexandar Georgiev that they could turn to.

The Rangers also have a pretty good offense, and that could spell trouble for the Carolina Hurricanes’ goalies. Mika Zibanejad, top center for NY, has 41 goals on the season and is a force. Paired with Artemi Panarin as a winger and that’s quite the one-two punch. The Hurricanes do have Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen up top, along with one of the better scoring defenders in the league in Dougie Hamilton, but Carolina’s hopes will likely come down to goaltender Petr Mrazek and if he’s up to the task.

No. 7 Islanders (-120) vs. No. 10 Panthers (-102)

The New York Islanders are favored over the Florida Panthers, but not by much. The Islanders are a tough, defensive team with Barry Trotz running the show. The Islanders have solid goaltending and won all four matchups against the Panthers this season. For New York, advancing past Florida will be about the team’s defense and goaltending. If those two elements can be what we’ve come to expect from Trotz’s Islanders, it’s going to be a tough go for the Panthers.

On the other side, the Panthers will need their offense to produce. The Islanders aren’t an overly offensive team and that will help Florida, who is weaker on the defensive end. That doesn’t mean Sergei Bobrovsky won’t have to be good, especially when the speedy Mathew Barzal is on the ice. Will the Panthers finally start to breakthrough? They’ve got a good shot against the Islanders, but this one could go either way as the close betting odds suggest.

No. 8 Maple Leafs (-166) vs. No. 9 Blue Jackets (+136)

When a No. 8 seed plays a No. 9 seed, it should be a tight matchup, right? Well, the betting odds from FanDuel Sportsbook don’t have this one as close as some might think just based on the seeding, as the Toronto Maple Leafs are -166 favorites over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Last season, Columbus surprised just about everyone when the team pulled a shocking upset by sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.

Toronto is a team that thrives on offense, with Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander all over 50 points on the season. It’ll be this offense that needs to continue firing if the Maple Leafs want to make a run in the playoffs. Columbus will want to do what it did to the Lightning last season if it wants to win this round, which means the team will need to use its defense and pounding style of hockey to grind down the opponent. They say styles make fights and we could be in for a very good series between these two contrasting teams.

No. 5 Oilers (-170) vs. No. 12 Blackhawks (+138)

Like the Canadiens, the Chicago Blackhawks were very much out of the playoff picture, but the team was able to get in with the new 24-team format. Chicago gets to take on the Edmonton Oilers in a series that should provide viewers and sports bettors with plenty of action and scoring.

On the Edmonton side, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will be the heavy lifters on the Oilers offense. On Chicago’s, it’s all about Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. There are similarities between the way the two teams are set up and this one could come down to the last line of defense, the goalies. Chicago’s Corey Crawford has plenty of experience going deep in the playoffs, and Mike Smith is a solid goalie on the other side. Our guess is that the team with the goalie that plays the better series will advance.

No. 6 Predators (-134) vs. No. 11 Coyotes (+110)

If we’re being honest, we’re not exactly sure what to expect from the Nashville Predators and Arizona Coyotes, so it’s probably fitting that these two are matched up in the qualifying round. Nashville has been up and down all season but seemed to be rounding into form just before the season was suspended. Arizona started hot and then fizzled out.

Although Nashville no longer has P.K. Subban, the team’s defense is still pretty sound. It’ll be interesting to see this defense go up against the likes of Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall, although we wonder how well those two will perform. Kessel hasn’t looked like the Kessel of old, but maybe the layoff has allowed him to get rejuvenated. That said, it’ll also be interesting to see if the Predators are a bit rejuvenated themselves. We’ll definitely want to see if Arizona’s goaltending can continue to perform well for the team and that could be the ticket to the next round.

No. 7 Canucks (-136) vs. No. 10 Wild (+112)

The Minnesota Wild aren’t a flashy, high-flying team, but the squad shouldn’t be overlooked. The Wild play a shutdown style that can wear opponents down, so it will be interesting to see how a young Vancouver Canucks team deals with Minnesota.

This matchup should be another good one for those looking for two teams with contrasting styles and makeups. The Wild are a veteran squad who play a defensive style. The Canucks are younger and more speedy with a more uptempo offense. One thing we’re certainly looking forward to watching is Elias Pettersson‘s performance on a stage like this. The 21-year-old center has been having a great season and we’ll see if that continues.

No. 8 Flames (-116) vs. No. 9 Jets (-106)

Another close one per the betting odds, the Calgary Flames take on the Winnipeg Jets. For Calgary, the team will be looking to rebound after falling short of expectations last season when they finished first in the conference and then were bounced in the first round. With offensemen like Johnny Gaudeau and Matthew Tkachuk and an offensive defensemen in Mark Giordano, it’s not as though the Flames don’t have the talent. They just need to put it all together.

The Jets also bring a fun roster to the ice, with Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, and Nikolaj Ehlers all over 50 points on the season. In goal, Connor Hellebuyck does the heavy lifting for Winnipeg and when he’s hot, he’s up there with the best in the league. We have a feeling this matchup is going to be a low-for-blow kind of series and we’re excited to sit back and watch it all play out.

NHL betting tips

Don’t discount underdogs

The NHL Playoffs are as wide open as you’ll find in the postseason of a major sport. Oftentimes, you’ll see a lower seed score a couple of upsets and go on a run. A couple of seasons ago, we saw the expansion Vegas Golden Knights make an incredible run all season long that ended with a loss in the Stanley Cup Final. Last season, the record-setting Tampa Bay Lightning got swept in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the very talented Pittsburgh Penguins were swept by the New York Islanders.

In hockey, it’s particularly important to pay attention to the price that underdogs are getting, as that can be where the value is, either on a single-game basis or across an entire series. Take the Canadiens against the Penguins for this year’s opening round, for example. Montreal is the biggest underdog on the board. While Pittsburgh has bigger names like Crosby and Malkin, these two squads are probably closer than people think. Montreal also has a goalie that can easily be one of the best in the world, so if Price gets hot and Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense goes dry, watch out.

Identify injuries –

This season is extremely unique in that the coronavirus pandemic suspended the season for a very long time. This allowed many players to heal up and those players will now be ready to go for the NHL’s new postseason plan. Whether you’re betting on individual games or full series, it pays to understand the injuries, specifically which players have healed up and will be returning to give teams a boost.

Look at special teams –

Special teams can be big factors in hockey games, especially in the postseason when every advantage matters that much more. Although the game of hockey has opened up a bit in recent years and there is more 5-on-5 scoring, powerplays are a team’s best chance to find the back of the net. Teams with successful powerplays can really take advantage of their opponents.

On the other side, a team’s penalty kill can severely hurt if unable to keep the opponent from finding the back of the net. It’s not easy to play down men to an opponent, but there are teams that have more successful penalty kills than others. If you find a matchup that has a team with a good powerplay up against a team with a bad penalty kill, you could be finding a winner.

Furthermore, some teams are better at short-handed scoring than others, so look into this, too.

Shop around for the best lines –

At SharpSide, we always advocate line shopping, especially in today’s world of growing legalized sports betting. More places are available to bet at, which means bettors can line shop for the best prices.

Know the goalies –

Most of the time in the NHL Playoffs, teams will put their best goalies on the ice, but sometimes teams will mix it up if they have more than one capable net-minder. When the goalie matchups are made available, dive in to find out who each goalie is and how he performs. You might think a goalie is a backup because it’s not the name you recognize when in reality the goalies have played just as much time.

Also with goalies, the starters aren’t always made available early on and bettors are left waiting until the day of a game to find out who will be in net for each side. At that point, it’s often too late to get an advantage. Rather, do your homework and try and project who the goalies will be so that you compare those projections with the betting odds to see if there is value to be had.

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