All internet users are familiar with activists sniping at each other on blog scrolls. Today, our National Hockey League blog is going to take a few moments to “throw shade” at some of our own mainstream-media adversaries, those part-time hockey writers who insist that Stanley Cup tournaments are not based on skill but are virtual crap-shoots, exercises in “luck.”
The notion that a team winning Lord Stanley’s Grail is “just lucky” might sound amusing, or even exciting to the average ticket buyers, that is if they’re headed off to cheer for an 8th-seeded team in the NHL playoffs. For sportsbook users, the myth is potentially far more dangerous. There is no such thing as a “lucky” Stanley Cup victory, and betting against NHL odds with the idea in mind would lead to a devastated stake.
The school of thought of “NHL is all about luck” peaked right around 2020, following the Cinderella titles of the 2010s and Boston’s loss to St. Louis in the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals. The Boston Bruins are so popular in the northeast that Canadian hockey announcers treat Boston like a home team compared to its playoff rivals from the United States, and a triumph for St. Louis meant that millions of angry fans were looking for a scapegoat. One noisy pundit from Beantown suggested, not unlike the final referee’s decision from the movie “Slap Shot,” that the NHL should’ve canceled the final game, declared Saint Louis’ physical, chippy team illegitimate and void, and handed a league trophy over to the Boston Bruins by forfeit.
The other takes were no less absurd. The Sporting News, Vox, and other outlets argued that STL’s win (and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s upset defeat in Round 1) was evidence of superior players just not getting a fair enough shake in pond-shinny compared to the skill-based NBA. If phenomenal players like Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning and Brad Marchand of the Bruins could be eliminated by inferior skaters, they reasoned, then the NHL wasn’t rewarding its best players with championships, like the NBA with LeBron James.
However, since basketball is such a unique sport in which a “starting five” makes all the difference, that’s a silly premise. No set of 5 players ever earned a Super Bowl on their own merits in the NFL. Tom Brady and Derrick Henry’s teams fell badly short of championships in 2022-23, but each man was still considered the best at his position. Nobody said the NFL was “a game of luck” because Brady and Henry didn’t have the right supporting casts to succeed last season. Football is a team sport of 40+ players. Likewise, hockey is a team competition of about 20 skaters on both sides. Basketball is the anomaly in which a superstar and their pals can turn a franchise around for a short time, but the success of nomadic NBA superstars in a small-lineup sport doesn’t make hoops more or less conditional on luck than any other pursuit. If what the Vox articles suggested about team-sports outcomes were true, then golf and beach volleyball would be known as “superior” competitions, with the leading superstar of each brand only having one individual (a caddie, or a setter) who could potentially screw things up.
The early decade of the NHL has been rattled by COVID-19, but its Stanley Cup playoffs at least temporarily put an end to the “crap-shoot” theories. Kucherov and the Bolts went on a dynastic streak that included 2 Stanley Cup championships and a pair of full-season conference titles, followed by Nathan MacKinnon leading Colorado to the Cup last campaign. Colorado out-goaltended Edmonton and out-skated Tampa Bay en route to winning the Stanley Cup in 2022, and once again, luck had little to do with any of it.
However, could this year’s NHL conference quarterfinals threaten to bring back the old saw again? Tuesday and Wednesday night’s scores showed a legion of underdog teams doing more than just hanging on in their series against Stanley Cup betting favorites.
The Boston Bruins’ vaunted attack was dulled by the Florida Panthers in midweek, drawing a critical series tight at 3-2 in Spokes’ favor. New York Islanders netminder Ilya Sorokin, long the finest goaltender in the Kontinental Hockey League, put a kibosh on Carolina’s plan to clinch 4-1 in Game 5 with 34 saves on 36 opposing shots. The Edmonton-Los Angeles best-of-7 series has seesawed back-and-forth, though the Kings died a little bit by surrendering 5 goals in the opening 2 periods in the Oilers’ Game 5 win.
And finally, the 2nd-year Seattle Kraken are on the verge of knocking the NHL’s defending winners out of the Stanley Cup playoffs after an amazing road victory in Denver, led by German goaltender Phillip Grubauer and a fine checking effort that restricted the potent Colorado Avalanche to just 28 shots. The defending Avs will now travel back to Seattle to face what could be one of the loudest crowds in recent NHL playoff history, hoping to spark the Kraken to a Game 6 win and a stunning 4-2 series triumph. The Kraken are (+132) moneyline picks to win Friday night and clinch the upset.
Every National Hockey League playoff series except Toronto-Tampa Bay and Vegas-Winnipeg (in which both potential Game 7 hosts enjoy a 3-1 advantage) is now either deadlocked or standing a 3-2 in aggregate victories. But if you hear that hockey’s underdog teams are getting “lucky” in the conference Q-finals, don’t buy it. Or bet on it.
Goaltending, not good fortune, is helping this April’s underdog clubs threaten to crash the party and eliminate the odds-on favored Avalanche, Bruins, or both. Grubauer is faring better in the postseason than his counterpart Alexander Georgiev, as the 2022 champs struggle to find the right formula in goal after letting go of the hero Darcy Kuemper. WagerBop‘s vibe was that the betting odds on GK Sergei Bobrovsky and Florida were misguided following Game 4’s poor start, and the netminder was able to prove it by stopping an unreal 44 out of 47 Boston shots-on-goal in the win on Wednesday.
MacKinnon of Colorado and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid’s elite skill will be on full display in the week’s playoff games to come, and it won’t be lucky if either man scores a hat trick. But to find the best NHL moneyline odds this weekend, look at how goaltenders may be affected by a home-ice advantage that can lead to more power-play chances for the club that is able to communicate better during its shifts. Linus Ullmark of the Boston Bruins is experienced enough not to stress out when the desperate Panthers pile up the crease in Game 6 at FLA Live Arena. But a less-established NHL goaltender could react more adversely in a hostile setting, which is bad news for Colorado with Georgiev’s form unable to live-up.
WagerBop’s Picks on Game 6 of the NHL Conference Q-Finals
Friday: April 28: Carolina Hurricanes at New York Islanders (Game 6, Carolina Leads 3-2)
Unbelievably, the New York Islanders are favored over the sportsbook-darling Carolina Hurricanes, and not by a technicality’s margin. New York is the (-122) moneyline pick for Friday’s Game 6 in the Big Apple, and what might have looked like a potential Carolina sweep in the beginning now appears to be headed for Game 7 drama, Southern style.
The Rangers remain this year’s more talented and dangerous playoff team from New York City. There’s been no bigger proponent of Isles netminder Ilya Sorokin over the years than this prognosticator’s hockey blog, but his lack of experience in a do-or-die NHL playoff scenario could haunt the Islanders in their first go-around as a contending team in front of the Russian ace. The patient, steady ‘Canes are still getting plenty of shots through, and aren’t too concerned about a NY attack that’s had only a handful of skaters score multiple points outside of the unexpected blow-out in Game 3.
In Game 4, Carolina retaliated right away with a statement 5-2 win on the road.
WagerBop’s Pick: Carolina (+102)
Friday, April 28: Boston Bruins at Florida Panthers (Game 6, Boston Leads 3-2)
It is almost to the point where “desperate” levels of noise from a home-ice crowd on the verge of Stanley Cup elimination could lead to “communication breakdowns” for the away team, even if there are no Led Zeppelin songs playing in between the action. Home teams will use their extra PP chances to crowd the crease and try to physically nick-up or emotionally rattle the goaltender, meaning that any away-team betting pick must be carefully vetted, focusing on netminders who can stand up to the torture. We trust Linus Ullmark above other teams’ candidates to play an excellent Game 6 in a deafening rink and help the Bruins.
WagerBop’s Pick: Under (6.5)
Friday, April 28: Dallas Stars at Minnesota Wild (Game 6, Dallas Leads 3-2)
The trailing team, once again, is favored to win a Game 6, with the Minnesota Wild drawing slight (-115) favorite’s odds to beat the visiting Dallas Stars. That is good news for our blog, which recommended midseason futures-picks on the Wild before watching in horror as the club was shut out by Jake Oettinger in Game 5. Friday may feel like a scenario in which the underrated Wild will pull through to force a Game 7 showdown with their old civic and proprietary rivals. But the safer betting pick is on the tight-checking game plan that Minnesota is likely to employ while seeking that very outcome.
WagerBop’s Pick: Under (5.5)
Friday, April 28: Colorado Avalanche at Seattle Kraken (Game 6, Seattle Leads 3-2)
Before one of the loudest sports crowds in Seattle history, the NHL’s own “miracle on ice” could play out on Friday. Seattle may not be a “true” expansion club anymore with nearly 2 seasons under the team’s belt, but it would still be an all-time shocker for the Kraken to rise over a Colorado franchise that’s been spanking the whole NHL for several years.
Experts of international hockey can tell you that the game’s actual “Miracle on Ice,” the USA-over-USSR upset in the medal round at 1980’s Lake Placid Olympics, was not really a “miracle” but a decisive moment in which a dynasty started to crumble. The Soviet team represented the finest collection of talent available anywhere in the world, but it was also growing old and dull, performing in an overconfident style that plagued the Red Army skaters as soon as a comeback was needed. The college-aged, fast American team executed better and quicker than the Soviets did, led by future NHLers like Gary Suter.
The Seattle Kraken are gunning for another David-beats-Goliath takedown in 2023, and the bookmakers at FanDuel aren’t treating Colorado quite like Fetisov, Krutov, and Tretiak, even with the Avalanche’s lineup of forwards that remains the fastest and most deadly around. Colorado’s defending team is no “USSR” aging lineup scenario, in fact, the Colorado Avalanche employ far more youth than the Tampa Bay Lightning, against whom the Avs skaters won a Stanley Cup Final in 2022.
Seattle’s crowd this Friday could manufacture the loudest din ever heard from an expansion team’s ticket buyers. At a glance, a moneyline of just (-162) on the Avs may seem weak.
Take a look between the pipes again. Grubauer of the Kraken has been outperforming Georgiev of the Avalanche, exposing Colorado for having made unneeded changes at GK in the offseason. If Colorado’s otherwise dynamic blue line cannot communicate well enough in the noise to stop Seattle’s rushes, interference calls and power-play chances could break up any positive tempo and transition which Nathan MacKinnon’s top-6 forwards can find for the Avs, and give Grubauer a chance to cap Seattle’s astounding series-upset bid with a classic performance on home ice.
WagerBop’s Pick: Seattle (+134)
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.
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