NHL Playoffs Set: Maple Leafs-Canadiens Headline First Round Matchups

NHL May 14, 2021

It's been a long cold lonely winter, here comes the sun – the NHL playoffs are finally here!

As the 56-game regular season wraps up over the next few days, each of the four divisions have already settled their playoff seeding orders.  Some teams have much easier paths to advance than others.

The regular season was originally scheduled to end on 8 May.  Playoffs were to begin on 11 May.  However, the season was extended to due to several postponements earlier this year.  The league announced some divisions will start their playoff rounds sooner than others.

In all, 53 games were postponed.  But the most significant impact was with the North Division's Vancouver Canucks.  The team was hit with a serious outbreak that saw 22 players and four staff members test positive in late March/early April.   The team postponed five consecutive games, including 2 against Calgary, 2 against Winnipeg, and 1 against Edmonton.  Those matches were moved to the end of the schedule.  So, in an odd twist, starting on 15 May – the eliminated Canucks will be the only team (and their various opponents) playing through the 19th.  So, there's your "playoffs," Canucks fans.

So, here we are.

As for the remainder of the league and the 16 teams that made the postseason, the odds are up at SPREADS.CA on each of the eight series (note that these odds are as of Friday, at 9 am PST and could change significantly):

Here are some quick takeaways:

Biggest mismatch – Oddsmakers don't give the St. Louis Blues much of a fighting chance versus the heavily favoured Colorado Avalanche (who are still favoured to win the Stanley Cup).  Wagering on the Blues returns a nearly 3-1 payoff.  Analytics give the Avalanche an 83 percent chance of advancing in Round 1.  An upset here would be a shocker.

Canadien mismatch – In the North Division, the much anticipated Toronto-Montreal series will draw everyone's attention.  However, oddsmakers and bettors aren't giving the Habs much of a shot.  They're priced at +235 to advance.  All the pressure is on the Maple Leafs in this series.  The underdog might be worth a look.

Highest-scoring games predictions -- In the "other" Canadian matchup, the Oilers-Jets matchup should be an wonderfully exciting series to watch.  Betting totals, which usually drop come playoff time, are mostly 5 and 5.5 goals scored.  However, the Edmonton-Winnipeg opener has an betting total of 6.  So, oddmakers are expecting the puck to hit the net more often in this series, which will make some some fun hockey, and perhaps a more unpredictable series of games to wager on.  

The South Division is stacked – Three contending teams come out of this tough division (sorry, Nashville) – including Carolina, Florida, and defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay.  In Round 1, the battle for the Sunshine State should be a slugfest.  The Lightning are marginal favourites over the Panthers (-155/+135).  The Hurricanes are expected to advance much more easily versus the Predators (-240/+200).

The East could produce two first-round upsets – There's not much separation between the 1st and 4th seeds in the East, which have beaten each other up all season long.  Boston gets the most respect, but don't count out the veteran Washington Capitals in this series, which draws an attractive +135 price on advancing.  Some analytics actually favour Washington.  We also would't count out the NY Islanders, priced at +120 to upset the Penguins.

Can the Wild upset the Golden Knights? – This is a very dangerous series for Las Vegas, which lost 5 of 8 regualr season games versus Minnesota this season.  The Golden Knights won more games, 40, than any NHL team and tied with Colorado for the most overall points (80).  However, the Wild were a 35-win team which would have placed them right there near the top in any of the other three divisions, so they got somewhat lost in the mix with Vegas and Colorado.  Vegas is certainly a solid team, but Minnesota looks to be a very attractive live underdog in this opening round.