Regardless of how the remaining best-of-7 division-semifinal series play out, 2021’s Stanley Cup playoffs could be remembered as a coming-of-age for Russia’s KHL talent base as a potential straw-stirrer in NHL rivalries.
The KHL is not a direct competitor to the National Hockey League, at least not in the way Vladimir Putin might have intended. Sure, the “Horses” of CSKA Moscow could fare pretty well against NHL teams, but the KHL also has a severe depth problem, which is why Liam Kirk and a Great Britain squad of journeymen can skate with half the rosters at an undermanned 2021 IIHF World Championship.
Instead of the KHL’s brands conquering the western hemisphere, it’s former KHL players who’re disrupting the NHL playoffs with game-changing talent. Far from putting a dent in the NHL’s quality of play, KHL franchises are serving as full-speed professional training centers for future stars of North American pond-shinny.
New York Islanders netminder Ilya Sorokin, fresh from a 2019-20 season in Moscow, led the Isles to a 4-2 upset series-victory over Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins after stepping-in for Semyon Varlamov between the pipes. Sorokin is a ready-made NHL “rookie” with a playoff GAA under 2.00, and a recent NHL.com headline that Sorokin “could” potentially start against the Boston Bruins in the East Division finals is amusing for its understatement.
Meanwhile, Sorokin’s old teammate and National Hockey League ROTY Kirill Kaprizov scored a crucial Game 5 goal to snap a Minnesota Wild scoring slump, helping to turn the West Division semifinals from a pair of runaway romps into a pitched drama.
Not that every imported KHL skater is flourishing. Toronto forward Ilya Mikheyev, who’s been just as impressive on small ice as in a long-term role for Avangard Omsk, has disappeared as a scoring threat in 9 postseason appearances. Mikheyev mustered just 1 shot on-goal in Toronto’s 4-3 loss to Montreal on Thursday night, and the Maple Leafs’ lack of scoring depth could be a reason why Toronto can’t seem to close-out the Habs despite holding a 3-2 lead in the series.
When it’s feast or famine for pricey new commodities – and pricey known commodities like Connor McDavid – is there any such thing as a safe wager for NHL speculators to turn to? Never fear. The roller-coaster of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs doesn’t teach us anything we didn’t already know. More so than depth, determination, or dangerous snipers, an NHL team must be mentally prepared to win any kind of playoff game and any type of postseason series. Otherwise, they turn into the 2021 St. Louis Blues or Edmonton Oilers, falling behind in tight games, falling down in physical games, and taking the lopsided loss in wide-open battles.
Too bad the Stanley Cup favorites have the defects of their virtues. Colorado was so good in the 1st round that we don’t know how the Avalanche will react to a tense scenario yet. The only thing stopping Nathan MacKinnon from lighting-up scoresheets in late May is a lack of games to take part in, thanks to an easy 4-0 sweep of the Blue Note.
Updated NHL Futures: Odds to Win the 2021 Stanley Cup
(Odds courtesy of Bovada Sportsbook)
Colorado Avalanche +250
Boston Bruins +450
Toronto Maple Leafs +500
Tampa Bay Lightning +575
Vegas Golden Knights +850
Carolina Hurricanes +900
New York Islanders +1400
Winnipeg Jets +1600
Nashville Predators +5000
Minnesota Wild +6000
Montreal Canadiens +10000
The Colorado Avalanche have done nothing to discourage Stanley Cup gamblers in the opening round of this year’s NHL playoffs. In fact, by whipping the St. Louis Blues in 4 straight hockey games, the Avalanche have upped their stock in Las Vegas while procuring a long sabbatical prior to the West Division semifinals.
Colorado’s margin of victory was as stunning as the series was short. Mackinnon has proven to be much more of a powerhouse than McDavid in the 2020-21 Stanley Cup tournament, scoring a hat trick in the 2nd game to give the Avalanche a 6-3 victory and a 2-0 series lead over St. Louis. MacKinnon finished the series with 6 goals as Colorado burned Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington, lighting the lamp 20 times in 12 periods.
Las Vegas and Minnesota continue to wage a heart-rending West Division playoff series. Marc-Andre Fleury’s presence loomed large as the Golden Knights shut-out the Wild in regulation twice in the first 4 games, taking a hard-earned 3-1 lead in the series following Flower’s perfect outing and 2 goals from Vegas forward Nicolas Roy in Game 4. But the Wild, who have been amazing at home in 2021, responded with a 4-2 road victory to stay alive and force a Game 6 on Wednesday.
Boston is the next-most popular Stanley Cup wager after polishing-off Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in 5 short games. Washington might have expected business-as-usual after defeating the Boston Bruins in OT in Game 1, but few pundits forecasted the win being the Capitals’ last of the season. Patrice Bergeron played an aggressive series on offense, pacing the Bruins in points and SOG. Veteran netminder Tuukka Rask arguably played an even-larger role in conquering the Caps. Ovechkin and Tarasenko of the eliminated Blues are being courted by Russia to join the World Championship roster in Riga by the end of May.
The New York Islanders have found their scoring touch in the playoffs, leading Pittsburgh 3 wins to 2 as the series winds toward Game 6 at Nassau Coliseum. However, the Isles remain a relative long-shot to win Lord Stanley’s hardware at 13-to-1.
Boston’s dismissal of D.C. had nothing on the shock-value of Winnipeg sweeping Edmonton in 4 straight games. McDavid was shadowed relentlessly by the Jets, managing just 2 shots-on-goal in the series opener, and held without a goal until Game 4. When the favored Oilers took an early lead in Game 3, the Winnipeg Jets feasted on Edmonton goalie Mike Smith and came back to win 5-4 in overtime. Winnipeg took 6 periods to knock-out Edmonton in Game 4 but probably earned an even longer rest than Colorado’s.
Toronto has remained a thinner than 7-to-1 pick to win the 2021 Stanley Cup tournament even as the Maple Leafs lost 2-1 to the Montreal Canadiens in a North Division series opener. The rejuvenated Carey Price led Montreal in last Thursday’s Game 1, stopping 35 out of 36 Toronto shots. Austin Matthews and the Maple Leafs solved Price in Game 2, winning 5-1 before taking a 2-1 series lead in a much tighter contest at the Bell Centre on Monday.
WagerBop’s Stanley Cup Futures Bet Recommendations (5/27 – 5/28)
Colorado Avalanche (2 units)
Tampa Bay Lightning (1 unit)
Winnipeg Jets (1 unit)
NHL Division Finals: Series Price Odds, Previews, and Picks
Schedules are a pain in the neck when blogging the NHL playoffs, and they’re even more of a drag when you can’t give the readers one. The exact dates for the impending division-final series are still cloudy in most locales, and of course there are few series-price odds available at Bovada or elsewhere until the ink dries on the 7-game series slates. However, waiting any longer to report on the 2nd round outlook would be unfair to speculators looking for help on the Bruins, Islanders, Avalanche, and so on.
Thankfully, Carolina and Tampa Bay have eliminated Nashville and Florida respectively, giving us a little more to chew on going into the final weekend of May. Here’s a 3-pronged preview of the NHL’s upcoming Game 6 and Game 7 action, prospects for victorious clubs laying in wait, and finally series odds and picks for 2nd-round Stanley Cup match-ups already on the books.
West Division Semifinals (Game 7): Vegas Golden Knights vs Minnesota Wild
Friday, May 28th – T-Mobile Arena – 9 PM EST
Vegas back-checking (and body-checking) held Kaprizov to a couple of shots in Game 6, blanketing the Minnesota Wild’s leading scorer and daring the Wild to score in a different way. It took until the 3rd period, but Minnesota’s supporting cast came through, led by Swiss veteran Kevin Fiala with a goal and an assist. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon, a sneaky weapon for the Wild, added 2 assists in what would ultimately be a 3-0 victory to draw the semifinal series level at 3 wins apiece.
The Golden Knights were always going to be more comfortable at T-Mobile Arena, but the “juice” on Las Vegas’ moneyline (-180) is a little too much to take for an unpredictable Game 7.
Game 7 Pick: Under (5) (+115)
North Division Semifinals (Game 6): Montreal Canadiens vs Toronto Maple Leafs
There’s nothing new about a turnover at the blue line bringing a quick end to sudden-death NHL overtime. However, you don’t often see 5-on-5 OT end on a 2-on-0 rush from the winning team – an attacking scenario no “odd-man rush” can hold a candle to.
Nick Suzuki scored 59 seconds into overtime as the @CanadiensMTL quelled a three-goal rally by the Maple Leafs to stave off elimination and cut the deficit to 3-2 in their First Round series. #StanleyCup#NHLStats: https://t.co/dNdI2w8Id8 pic.twitter.com/GOm0a2OUVE
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 28, 2021
Montreal’s wild victory has failed to inspire bookmakers to put a favorite’s line on the Canadiens at Bell Centre, as the Toronto Maple Leafs are about a (-155) moneyline bet to end the best-of-7 semis on the road. Once again, the unpopular O/U side is a solid pick.
Game 6 Pick: Over (5.5) (+100)
Division Final Qualifiers w/ Opponents TBA: Colorado Avalanche, Winnipeg Jets
Winnipeg isn’t moving NHL gamblers to invest wholeheartedly, maybe because of the bugaboo about Canadian teams so often falling short after contending for Lord Stanley’s grail. But the Toronto Maple Leafs remain a 7-to-1 futures pick despite being locked in a tight series with Montreal. The newly-rejuvenated Carey Price led Montreal in last Thursday’s Game 1, stopping 35 out of 36 Toronto shots. Austin Matthews and the Maple Leafs solved Price in Game 2, winning 5-1 before taking a 2-1 series lead in a much tighter contest Monday at the Bell Centre. Comparing that odyssey – and potential early-round Toronto loss – to Winnipeg’s methodical take-down of Edmonton makes us wonder why the Jets are offered at 2/5ths the risk.
As for the Avalanche, you don’t often come across such finely-skilled NHL offenses with real bite on the blue line to go with the passing and shooting. Colorado’s tough, smart checking and gap-control are partly responsible for Philipp Grubauer’s watershed performances, and should allow the Avs to continue out-scoring clubs on the way to a Stanley Cup Finals bid. But watch for the injury-bug in an upcoming series with either the Vegas Golden Knights or Minnesota Wild.
NHL Division Finals Series Prices and Picks
New York Islanders vs Boston Bruins
Boston is once again overpriced at (-225) to defeat New York and win the East Division, just as the Spokes were overpriced headed into the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals against another tough, physical team with strong netminding.
No disrespect to the Boston Bruins, whom we’d pick if the odds were (-125). They’re just not a 1-to-2 favorite.
Pick: Islanders (+185)
Carolina Hurricanes vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Note: As of late Thursday night, online sportsbooks are balking at releasing series-price odds for the upcoming NHL playoff series between Carolina and Tampa Bay.
Check this URL for the numbers as soon as Las Vegas sports junkies quit watching Marc-Andre Fleury highlights and help set the odds for another round of postseason faceoffs.
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.