The regular season is over, the matchups are set, and it’s time to start picking series winners in the first round of the 2018 NHL Playoffs. Last year I went 6-2 with my first round series picks for a +4.02 units and I expect to once again make some solid profits with my series predictions.
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All of the odds below are taken from BetOnline.ag, one of my favourite sites for betting on the NHL Playoffs.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs New Jersey Devils
The Devils played very well to close out the season, going 7-1-1 in their final 9 games to squeak into the playoffs just one point ahead of the Panthers for the final wild card spot in the East. New Jersey has overachieved just making the playoffs this year and the pressure will be off as they move forward and do their best to progress.
Unfortunately for New Jersey, I do not give them a great chance against the Lightning. Yes, Tampa didn’t play quite as well down the stretch as they have for other parts of the season, but they still were able to string together enough wins to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference and I’m definitely not overlooking this team as a potential Stanley Cup winner, which many others seem to be doing.
In this match-up I think the Lightning have an obvious advantage in firepower and that’s even if Stamkos is unable to go early in this series (he’s expected back though). The Lightning really only need to shut down Taylor Hall, who is almost the entire offense for the Devils, and in a playoff series I think they will at least be able to slow down the Devils superstar.
I expect the Lightning to advance from this series fairly easily in either 4 or 5 games.
Play: Lightning 1.33
Boston Bruins vs Toronto Maple Leafs
Every Maple Leafs fan I talk to was hoping the Leafs would be playing the Lightning in the first round. I personally think they have a much better chance against Boston and I actually like their chances to advance in this series. Yes, the Leafs lost to the Bruins in a tight series back in 2013, but that was 5 years ago and this Leafs team is built very differently this time around.
Toronto is healthy and they have the firepower up front to score goals against this Bruins team. As long as the Maple Leafs are able to slow down the Marchand-Bergeron connection, I really think they have a great chance to win this series. At worst it’s a coin flip, so at these odds I think Toronto is a good bet.
Play: Maple Leafs 2.40
Washington Capitals vs Columbus Blue Jackets
I actually think this could be the Capitals year. They are coming into these playoffs somewhat under the radar even though they’ve finished atop the Metropolitan division once again. Alex Ovechkin is playing some of his best hockey in recent years and the lack of pressure facing this team compared to other years is significant. I also like the makeup of the team better this year. I think the addition of Shattenkirk at the deadline last year was a huge mistake, and I actually see John Carlson as the better offensive weapon from the point, while also have a far better two-way game. There are a few less big names on the team this year, but Ovechkin, Backstrom and Kuznetsov are more than capable of providing enough offense to carry this team through the playoffs if they can also play responsible defensively.
The Blue Jackets are rolling into form as well, but I expect the Caps to be able to take advantage of some of the d-men on the Blue Jackets squad, namely Jack Johnson, and find a way to roll through this series fairly easily.
One question mark for the Caps though is the goaltending situation. Braden Holtby has not been at his best this year and it looks like Phillip Grubauer will get the nod as the starter in this series. I’m expecting a solid performance from him. We see it often, where a backup goalie earns the starting job and carries his team to the Stanley Cup. Look no further than Matt Murray two years back. I think we could see something similar from Grubauer this year.
Play: Capitals 1.76
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers
I think the Penguins are most susceptible to being beaten in the first round of the playoffs, and I think the Flyers are a good team to potentially pull this off. The Pens are two time defending champs and have arguably a better team this year, with all of the same pieces in place, plus a healthy Kris Letang to control the back end. That said, Matt Murray has not been as good this year and I think the Flyers could take the Pens by surprise in round 1, before Pittsburgh is able to get into their playoff groove.
The Pens won all four games against the Flyers in the regular season, but you have to throw those results out the window in the playoffs. I believe Sean Couturier is at the point in his career where he will be able to make life very difficult on either Crosby or Malkin, and Nolan Patrick has also really stepped up his game late in the season and emerged as a capable second line center.
Overall, I would still give the edge to the Penguins, but it would be a small edge and I think as far as bets go, there is value on the Flyers at these odds.
Play: Flyers 2.95
Nashville Predators vs Colorado Avalanche
The Predators are my pick to win the Stanley Cup this year. I think they are just as good as last year, and with a healthy Ryan Johansen, and the addition of Kyle Turris, this team has the forward depth to go with their stacked blueline.
Pekka Rinne is one of the top goaltenders in the game and I expect him and the Preds team defense to be able to slow down Nathan MacKinnon and company. It was a great effort for the Avs to make the playoffs this year, but I don’t think they have much of a shot here in round 1.
Play: Predators 1.26
Winnipeg Jets vs Minnesota Wild
The Jets are really putting everything together at the right time. This team won 52 games this season and that wasn’t by accident. At 277 goals for the Jets had the most potent offense in the Western Conference and with everyone healthy and firing on all cylinders I expect Wheeler, Scheifele and company to be able to put up goals against this Wild team.
Minnesota is always going to be a tough out with a very solid top two lines, but I think the loss of Ryan Suter to a right ankle fracture near the end of the regular season will make it extremely difficult for the Wild to keep the Jets from piling up the goals.
Play: Jets 1.52
Vegas Golden Knights vs LA Kings
This is my favourite play of the 8 series. I’m taking the Kings as underdogs here in a big way. I do believe that the Golden Knights overachieved this season and that their home record was aided by the fact other teams were going to Vegas for the first time, particularly early in the season. Vegas definitely has two high end scoring lines that could pose problems for the LA Kings, but I just think the Kings have experienced enough defensemen, as well as top end centers in Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter, where they really should have the advantage in every department.
I also think that the Vegas defensemen leave a lot to be desired and I think the Kings hard nosed style will pay dividends as this series progresses.
I like the Kings to get the job done in 6 or 7 games and once again make a run in the playoffs like they did from 2012 to 2014.
Play: Kings 2.20
Anaheim Ducks vs San Jose Sharks
I think this series could really go either way, so I’m taking the underdog. This one is truly just a lean though.
The Ducks really turned it up down the stretch winning their final 5 games and going 10-1-1 in their last 12 games. The Cam Fowler injury is a big loss for this team though and I simply do not love their depth on defense.
Joe Thornton is also doubtful for the Sharks, but I don’t think he’s as big of a factor for this Sharks team as he used to be. The addition of Evander Kane should pay dividends for the Sharks, especially in this series.
Again, this is just a lean and a dog or pass spot for me, though I probably won’t have much action on this series, if any at all.
Play: Sharks 2.08