NHL best bets for Round 2: Series winners, potential upsets, and value picks
What Round 1 lacked in excitement early, it more than made up for in the end, culminating in an incredible weekend serving up a buffet of Game 7s.
Things are about to ramp up in Round 2 as we're treated to four series that look well worth the wait, highlighted by the Battle of Alberta and the Sunshine State rivalry.
Below are the odds for all four series, as well as our NHL betting writers' favorite plays.
|HIGHER SEED (ODDS)||LOWER SEED (ODDS)|
|Colorado Avalanche (-400)||St. Louis Blues (+300)|
|Calgary Flames (-195)||Edmonton Oilers (+160)|
|Florida Panthers (-155)||Tampa Bay Lightning (+130)|
|Carolina Hurricanes (-200)||New York Rangers (+165)|
Alex Moretto: Hurricanes (-200)
This is the perfect storm for the Hurricanes, who couldn't have asked for a better second-round matchup. There are few things the Rangers love more than playing on their heels; they have a real proclivity for getting hemmed in their own end. In contrast, the Hurricanes are as good a forechecking team as there is in the NHL, suffocating teams with their relentless attack.
At five-on-five there is no bigger mismatch in this second round, with the Rangers somehow making it through Round 1 - see: Shesterkin, Igor; Domingue, Louis - despite a league-low 36.1% expected goals share at five-on-five. Even the Predators managed 40%! The Hurricanes are also one of the few remaining playoff teams that the Rangers don't hold a special-teams edge over. The gap between these two teams is large, and unless Shesterkin reaches superhuman levels, this series will be over in a hurry.
Matt Russell: Panthers (-145)
A pair of Stanley Cups gets you two parades and everlasting credit, but the Lightning should probably already be on vacation. Although Tampa Bay got by the Maple Leafs on grit and guile, the Florida Panthers won't be so hospitable.
Since the Lightning won their first-round series last year, they've had to make sacrifices to get under the salary cap, while the Panthers were able to add to and develop their roster. As a result, Florida won the Presidents' Trophy and the Lightning narrowly avoided being a wild card.
Tampa won't click at a 40% rate on the power play, nor will it convert an absurd 21% of its even-strength high-danger chances as the team did last year. Sergei Bobrovsky is playing as well as he ever has as a Panther, and Florida will finally give the Lightning their long-awaited time off.
Todd Cordell: Hurricanes (-200)
The Rangers are a fun story that I expect to end sooner than later. They were drastically outplayed by the Penguins at five-on-five, giving up chances in bulk while struggling to create their own. They deserve credit for fighting back from multiple deficits, although the absence of Pittsburgh starter Tristan Jarry for six games no doubt helped the Rangers' cause.
Shesterkin remains the best goaltender in the series, but whether it's Frederik Andersen or Antti Raanta who counters him, the difference will not be nearly as dramatic as it was between Shesterkin and Domingue.
The Hurricanes are monsters at home and their calling card is running teams into the ground at five-on-five. They are going to give the Rangers all sorts of problems.
Favorite series spread
Alex Moretto: Hurricanes -1.5 (+100)
I said above that I think this series will be over quickly and I'm putting my money where my mouth is. To expand on the Rangers' first-round ineptitude, no team surrendered more than the 4.52 expected goals against per 60 minutes they allowed, while they posted a five-on-five expected goals share below 40% in six of seven games.
That's all they managed against a Penguins team that was missing its top two goalies for most of the series, got two full games combined from Rickard Rakell and Brian Dumoulin, and didn't have Sidney Crosby for Game 6 and the bulk of Game 5. Still, the Rangers got completely caved in throughout, only to be revived time and time again by Domingue's minus-3.61 goals saved above expected - the worst mark of all goalies from the first round.
The Rangers won't get that lucky again as they face a step up in competition: a healthy Canes team that was fourth in the NHL in expected goals share at five-on-five this season and second over the final 25 games. I have Carolina winning in five, with -2.5 (anything +200 or better) also worth a bet.
Matt Russell: Oilers +1.5 (-135)
I'm on the Hurricanes, too. However, if I can bet on the Battle of Alberta to go seven games, I'll happily do it. While the superhero narrative around No. 97 is fun, the Oilers are more than Connor McDavid. And even if they aren't, who cares? He makes the supporting cast better.
With Mike Smith second only to Jake Oettinger in the various advanced metrics in the first round, I'll hope he can be more than good enough again. If there's an upset to be had in Round 2, it's here, but the backup plan of just getting this series to a seventh game is worth the juice.
Todd Cordell: Avalanche -1.5 games (-170)
This is a little chalky, but I still see value. The Avalanche were in contention for the Presidents' Trophy until Game 81 despite dealing with an abundance of injuries all season long. They're the best team in hockey when healthy and they showed it in the opening round, sweeping the Predators while controlling better than 67% of the expected goals share. That led all playoff teams.
While the Blues have improved since being pounded by the Avalanche a year ago, Colorado is better as well. This series will not be close.
Favorite long-shot bet
Alex Moretto: Panthers win series 4-0 (+1000)
It's a long shot for a reason, but with all the talk about the Lightning's incredible winning streak coming off a playoff loss, wouldn't it be something if they lost four straight?
There's certainly a path to that outcome. The Panthers played really well in last season's first-round loss to the Lightning, but goaltending ultimately did them in. Sergei Bobrovsky looked to have exorcised his playoff demons in Round 1 against the Capitals, while the Panthers are better and deeper than they were a year ago. Tampa looked drained at times in the first round, and a grueling seven-game series did the team no favors. The Bolts will hit a wall eventually, and it could happen now; they won't have their most important forward, Brayden Point, for at least the start of this series. If Florida can grab an early stranglehold at home, everything's on the table.
Matt Russell: Blues to win series 4-2 (+1000)
For a real long shot, how about picking the Blues to swipe a game in Colorado, hold serve at home, and then close out the Avs in Game 6? Sure, it's unlikely, but at 10-1, the Blues have the best offense they've had in years, and with nine 20-plus goal-scorers, they can keep up with the Avalanche. Even a special-teams battle won't be a disaster: St. Louis had a 27% success rate on the power play this season and ranked fifth on the penalty kill.
If you're looking for a big upset, you need good goaltending. While Jordan Binnington had the worst regular season of his brief career, his return between the pipes for Game 4 against the Wild gave the Blues a jolt, stopping 20 of 21 high-danger scoring chances from Minnesota. We've at least seen this kind of performance from Binnington before, and he can do enough in what should be a high-scoring series to make this bet interesting.
Todd Cordell: Flames to win series 4-2 (+425)
The Flames and Oilers split the season series at two wins each. The underlying numbers suggest it wasn't as close as the results indicate: The Flames controlled at least 58% of the expected goals share in three of the four meetings.
As the Oilers showed in the opening round, a lack of depth and some defensive issues make them susceptible to being put on their heels by strong, structured five-on-five teams. The Flames fit that profile, only they're a better and more prolific version of a Kings team that just took the Oilers seven.
McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are absolute superstars and Smith is playing at a high level right now, giving his team a chance every night. They will help the Oilers win some games and keep the series competitive.
I don't see the Oilers winning this series, pushing it seven, or completely rolling over against their biggest rivals. Calgary in six sounds right, and so does the +425 price tag.