Handicapping the NHL: Playoff Preview

Handicapping the NHL: Playoff Preview

This article is part of our NHL Picks series.

Following the first 82-game schedule in three years, the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs are about to kick-off Monday. RotoWire will bring you a breakdown of each matchup ahead of the start of postseason play. AJ Scholz looks at the series and Stanley Cup odds courtesy of the DraftKings Sportsbook

Eastern Conference Matchups

Carolina Hurricanes (-115) vs Boston Bruins (-105) - Game 1 Monday, 7:00 PM ET

While the Bruins come into this matchup as the underdog and having secured their path to the playoffs via a wild-card spot, the odds paint a significantly better picture for Boston at just -105. It's the usual cast of characters that will lead the way for the club in the 'Perfection Line' of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak who were the top-three point producers this year. The Hurricanes certainly don't lack in offensive production, led by Sebastian Aho who put together his second career 80-point campaign this year. The question mark for Carolina will be netminding, as Frederik Andersen is still recovering from an undisclosed illness, leaving career backup Antti Raanta to carry the load. 

AJ's Pick: If Andersen was available for Game 1, I might consider going with the Hurricanes straight up to win the series on -115 value but I don't trust Raanta in goal considering he has reached the 20-win mark just once in his career. Instead of taking the B's on the series line, I'm going to look player prop for this matchup and take Pastrnak for most goals in the series at +425

Toronto Maple Leafs (-120) vs Tampa Bay Lightning (100) - Game 1 Monday, 7:30 PM ET

The Leafs find themselves favored against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning thanks in no small part to Rocket Trophy winner Auston Matthews (60 goals). Additionally, Jack Campbell is undefeated in regulation in his last 10 appearances, posting an 8-0-2 record and 2.74 GAA over that stretch. As a whole, the matchup could be decided by special teams, as the Maple Leafs led the league in power-play percentage (27.3) In terms of matchup, however, it probably couldn't have been any worse for Toronto as they'll face Andrei Vasilevskiy, who led the league in wins (39). Both offenses averaged over three goals per game during the regular season, so targeting the over in every game might not be the worst strategy. 

AJ's Pick: Sometimes it makes sense to try to find an angle and out-think the bookmakers. This is not one of those times. Until they lose a playoff series, which hasn't happened since the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, taking even money value on the Lightning to win the series is the play. 

New York Rangers (-115) vs   Pittsburgh Penguins (-105) - Game 1 Tuesday, 7:00 PM ET

On its face, this series will come down to the long-debated matchup of size vs. skill, as the Rangers should physically outplay Pittsburgh, especially considering New York averaged 25.28 hits per 60 minutes, fifth-most in the league. Having said that, the Rangers aren't without skilled players, including four skates who topped the 20-goal threshold and blueliner Adam Fox who set new personal bests this year in goals (11), assists (63) and power-play points (33). Compounding problems for the Penguins is the fact that starter Tristan Jarry will be sidelined for at least the first two games with a broken foot, leaving Casey DeSmith as the starter. Still, the Pen's iconic trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang certainly know what it takes to win a Stanley Cup having done so three times. 

AJ's Pick: If you've read any of my hockey articles or listened to RotoWire's hockey podcast PuckCast with Statsman and AJ, it won't take long to figure out I'm a diehard Penguins fan. Which makes it all the more painful to look at the Rangers on this series line. They can score, they have a significant size advantage and Igor Shesterkin should be in the Vezina Trophy discussion. If you want to get more than the -115 for the series line, consider the Rangers -1.5 games on the series spread for +180 as a 4-1 or 4-2 outcome feels likely. 

Florida Panthers (-340) vs Washington Capitals (260) - Game 1 Tuesday, 7:30 PM ET

The odds pretty much tell the story here as the Panthers secured the Presidents' Trophy for the first time in franchise history while the Capitals limped into the playoffs having lost four games in a row and taking the second wild-card spot. Star winger Jonathan Huberdeau was one of eight players this season to reach the 100-point threshold with a career-high 115 points on the league's most potent offense. Washington should continue to help out its netminders after limiting opponents to just 29.0 shots per game this year but with Alex Ovechkin clearly not 100 percent after missing the last three games with an upper-body injury, it will be a tough hill to climb. 

AJ's Pick: Obviously this series has blowout written all over it, so you could certainly get some solid value taking the Caps to win straight up at +260. Still, with the questions surrounding Ovechkin, I'd look to the exact series outcomes and consider the Panthers to win the series 4-1 at +290 which you can also double down on and take the series to finish in five games at +230. 

Western Conference Matchups

Minnesota Wild (-150) vs St. Loius Blues (130) - Game 1 Monday, 9:30 PM ET

Both teams head into this matchup with some uncertainty surrounding who will get the start for Game 1. For the Wild, Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot initially split the workload evenly after the Flower was acquired at the trade deadline but it was the three-time Stanley Cup champion that started four of the Wild's final five games, an indication Fleury should be expected to start. On the other end of the ice, it was Jordan Binnington – also a Stanley Cup champion – who started three of the last five games but spend much of the back half of the season as the No. 2 behind Ville Husso. While goaltending will likely dominate the discussion in this series to start, both squads feature a top-5 offense during the regular season. 

AJ's Pick: Taking Minnesota straight up does require you to give up pretty significant juice, but I don't love the series spread options considering it could be decided by just one game but also could wrap up in five of six games. All that to say, I'm sticking with the favorite here and taking Minnesota to win the series despite the -150 value. 

Edmonton Oilers (-250) vs Los Angeles Kings (200) - Game 1 Monday, 10:00 PM ET

Considering the odds for Colorado, Calgary and Florida for each of its opening-round matchups, it's a little surprising to see Edmonton at "just" -250. Especially considering the Oilers can ice two of the top-five point producers this season in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Add to that the fact that Mike Smith is on a nine-game winning streak during which he registered a phenomenal 1.66 GAA. The Kings lack much in the way of blue line production outside of Drew Doughty and have two netminders in Cal Petersen and Jonathan Quick who have struggled for consistency, neither reaching the 25-win mark nor posting a save percentage above .915. 

AJ's Pick: It might not be the biggest favorite on the board, but I don't expect this series to last very long which puts plenty of options into play, including my preferred option of Edmonton to win the series 4-1 at +340. You can double up on that bet by taking the series to end in five games for +230 and even considering targeting the series spread of Oilers -2.5 for +180. 

Colorado Avalanche (-650) vs Nashville Predators (450) - Game 1 Tuesday, 9:30 PM ET

Starting with the Predators, there is some concern they will be without netminder Juuse Saros for at least a game or two due to a lower-body injury. That leaves Nashville with David Rittich as its starter and he only logged 17 games this year in which he went 6-3-4 with a career-worst 3.57 GAA. Those numbers could get even worse versus the Avalanche's star-studded roster that is poised to get back Gabriel Landeskog following a 23-game absence. Look for Colorado to pepper Rittich with pucks considering the team averaged 35.0 shots per game in the regular season (fourth highest in the league. 

AJ's Pick: Sweeps don't happen that often but if there is a series that will end in just four games, it's certainly this one. Looking at the exact outcome odds, the Avs to win 4-0 gets you +330 which you can combine with Colorado -2.5 in the series spread for -110 and total games played at 4 for +290. 

Calgary Flames (-350) vs Dallas Stars (270) - Game 1 Tuesday, 10:00 PM ET

The Flames are heavily favored in this series not because Dallas is bad or struggled this season but solely on the back of the team's impressive performance from its top talents. Johnny Gaudreau finished second in the league in points (115), Matthew Tkachuk similarly got over the 100-point threshold (104) and Elias Lindholm racked up 42 goals after having never previously even hit the 30-goal mark. Even if the Flames' offense suddenly struggles, they are backstopped by Jacob Markstrom who led the league with nine shutouts this year and should be in the mix for the Vezina Trophy. 

AJ's Pick: While the Avs are certainly more likely to pull off the sweep, making all the same bets for Calgary would net a better return and is certainly an option. The Flames on the sweep at 4-0 brings back +475, the series ending in four games is +425 and the series spread of Calgary -2.5 games is +150. While I'll take all the above, the head-to-head goalscorer prop between Tkachuk and Gaudreau offers some more intriguing here with the players coming in at -120 and -110, respectively. Personally, I'll take the youngster and go Tkachuk to score more goals than Gaudreau in the series

Stanley Cup Odds

In a matchup that seems almost destined to happen, the Avalanche and Panthers, who battled it out for the Presidents' Trophy all season long, lead the Stanley Cup odds at +330 and +550, respectively. Meanwhile, the longest of longshots are the Kings at +6000 as they would likely have to get past Edmonton, Calgary and Colorado just to make the Stanley Cup Finals. 

AJ's Pick: As mentioned above, Gabrial Landeskog is back, Mikko Rantanen in healthy and Nathan MacKinnon posted his fourth 80-plus point campaign in the last five years. Throw in potential Norris Trophy nominee Cale Makar and Darcy Kuemper, who is playing some of the best hockey of his career and all signs point to the Avs taking him Lord Stanley's cup. It will likely come down to who Colorado faces in the Finals, rather than if they make it out of the Western Conference. If somebody can upset the Panthers, then the Avalanche could cruise to victory. 

AJ's Longshot: I don't know if they technically qualify as a "dark horse" considering they are the two-time defending champions, but the Lightning have the fifth-best odds to win the cup at +1100. Their core remains together and having Vasilevskiy between the pipes can't be overestimated. If you've stuck with them this far, why not try to catch Lightning in a bottle again given the value here. 

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AJ Scholz
Co-Host of PuckCast with Statsman and AJ and unabashed Penguins fan.
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