If the NHL ever stopped to breathe for a few days, the league might sense a grand opportunity to prepare, promote, and build suspense for what could be a classic “final four” scenario featuring the defending Stanley Cup champs, North America’s hippest expansion team in decades, and 2 clubs responsible for more collective ice-hockey history than Lake Placid.
Instead, the National Hockey League going to keep rushing the Stanley Cup tournament along. Sunday seems awfully early to ask skaters to rise and shine for Game 1 of the 3rd playoff round, especially since the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vegas Golden Knights, Montreal Canadiens, and New York Islanders were kindly enough to get Round 2 over with quickly, with the 4 series-losers only winning a total of 5 games between them. The NHL’s victorious rosters deserve more rest, and so do the fans for that matter. Teams can’t even buy a long break by quickly dispatching a rival.
Then again, this blogger has sung the praises of IIHF hockey for testing each national team’s willpower, stamina, and depth in addition to passing, shooting, and checking. Rather than complain about the NHL’s adamantine drive toward a proverbial “catch up” day in which the calendar no longer shows the effects of coronavirus or 2020’s lockdown, it’s on NHL speculators to heavily-weight factors like age, fatigue, and overall wear-and-tear on a playoff contender’s lineup into our predictions for June and July’s remaining Stanley Cup faceoffs, more so than is customary for ‘capping games at the end of “shortened” seasons.
After all, since 2019, the NHL’s entire catch-up slate has felt like a single, big, fat, long season. Young legs could become a bigger boon than usual, and aging snipers could become listless, now that skaters will continue to battle into mid-summer weeks.
Not to get ahead of the narrative. The facts are that at least as of the conclusion of Round 2, veterans are dominating the NHL playoffs – namely in the form of 3 goaltenders.
Stanley Cup Playoff Recap and Futures Odds
After the Colorado Avalanche took a 2-0 series lead in the West Division finals, an unlucky NHL blogger (who I won’t embarrass by linking to this URL) wrote that 2021’s North Division finals were simply a contest to “see which Canadian team would get eliminated by Colorado in the 3rd Round.”
You wouldn’t say that the opinion has aged like fine wine. More like a leftover dish made out of fish. Or crow, maybe.
Colorado began the West Division Finals with a blow-out win over Vegas and were touted as invincible, at least when matched against the Avs’ own division. In less than a week’s time, the Golden Knights engineered an amazing postseason turnaround and came from behind to conquer the vaunted Avalanche in just 6 games. Las Vegas allowed only 8 goals from Colorado, the consensus most-lethal attacking team in the NHL headed into the Stanley Cup playoffs, over the final 4 meetings.
Unsurprisingly, goaltender Marc-André Fleury was crucial to the Golden Knights’ success. “Flower” was only forced to stop 17 shots as the Knights dominated Game 4, allowing Canadian sniper Jonathan Marchessault to score a decisive hat trick in a 5-1 Vegas win that tied the series.
Fleury loomed larger in Game 5 at the Pepsi Center, keeping the Knights within 2 goals before Machessault’s line came alive again and helped spark a 3-2 win in overtime.
The Avs and Knights headed back to Vegas for Game 6, in which the momentum see-sawed back and forth until late in the 3rd period when LW William Carrier’s goal gave Vegas a commanding 5-3 lead. Max Pacioretty scored a skillful empty-net goal to put the game away with a 6-3 final. The 4-2 series victory was accompanied by a touching display of sportsmanship as the Knights passed up numerous chances to shoot at an empty Colorado net in the final 2 minutes.
Taking a page from the KHL’s playbook, Golden Knights’ organizers hired a band and cheerleaders in the upper deck to show appreciation for a post-COVID era packed house at T-Mobile Arena. If you prefer a Red, White, and Blue comparison, the scene atop T-Mobile’s rafters could have been inspired by James Brown’s serenade of Creed vs Drago in Rocky IV…with the good guys managing to stay alive this time. Vegas will go on to face the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup semifinals.
Other NHL Division Finals series turned into lopsided battles. Montreal unexpectedly swept the Winnipeg Jets behind terrific netminding from veteran Carey Price, showing that the club’s 1st Round upset of the Toronto Maple Leafs was no fluke. The defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning handled the Carolina Hurricanes in 5 games with a strong closing performance following a sour end to Game 3 in OT.
The Avalanche and Jets losses are bad news for people who’ve listened to my NHL futures handicaps, but a WagerBop dark horse pick on the New York Islanders is still in play at 22/1. Clients can still invest in the Isles to prevail and win the Stanley Cup, but it’ll be at shorter odds than the 22-to-1 line found in May, and especially shorter than the Isles’ odds when the team faced a nearly-historic scoring slump in early spring. New York, much like the Vegas Golden Knights, rebounded from early miscues to defeat the Boston Bruins 6-3 in an East Division finale and secure the Islanders’ spot in the next round.
Here’s a look at Bovada Sportsbook’s NHL futures odds as of June 12th:
Vegas Golden Knights +120
Tampa Bay Lightning +150
New York Islanders +575
Montreal Canadiens +1200
There are ample reasons to make the Vegas Golden Knights and Tampa Bay Lightning into Stanley Cup favorites with so many other NHL contenders eliminated.
The Lightning are replicating their championship form of 2019-20, and the Golden Knights just knocked-off the overwhelming futures-odds favorite of spring 2021. But even those speculators who passed up the Islanders and Canadiens at long odds shouldn’t overlook either team now as a potential futures or series-price pick as best-of-7 series begin.
Best-of-7 series are known for identifying the best teams, but they’ve got a funny way of leveling the field, too. This point goes in the Norman-Dale-Measuring-The-Rim category, but guess what? New York and Montreal can win a championship in the 2021 Stanley Cup tournament by winning 8 games over the next 2-3 weeks, the same boat as the Bolts and Golden Knights are in.
Besides, the remaining upstart GK in the 2021 NHL playoffs is a good’un. Ilya Sorokin of the Islanders was once considered a quirky European netminder by some scouts, but he’s arrived in North America in-earnest by virtually saving the Isles, who have also turned to the reliable Semyon Varlamov 7 times in the postseason, from early-round elimination in 2021.
Successful betting is about weighing the odds against the chances of an event occurring, in this case, a team winning a title. New York had a better than 20/1 chance to win the Stanley Cup even when Isles snipers were leaving sawdust in the slot back in April, and the Islanders have a better than 6-to-1 chance to survive 2 more playoff series.
WagerBop’s Futures Picks:
Tampa Bay Lightning (2 unit bet maximum)
New York Islanders (2 unit bet maximum)
Series Price Odds and Predictions: 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals
Tampa Bay Lightning vs New York Islanders
Tampa Bay is a (-200) favorite to beat New York following a corker-performance in the division round. Several of the Bolts have been on fire with the puck in tow, continuing to belie the team’s sluggish performance in the 2019 playoffs and reminding fans that Tampa Bay is good enough to win full-season championships. Brayden Point has made the transition into a household name and a feared NHL sniper, scoring 8 goals in 11 playoff appearances.
But if you read the section above, you know we’re taking a contrary stance on Tampa Bay vs NYI. Sorokin and Varlamov can challenge and confuse Lightning snipers in ways they haven’t dealt with in the postseason yet, and the Isles’ postseason form is simply a night-and-day resurgence compared to the doldrums of March and April. Tampa Bay will enjoy home-ice advantage in Game 1, Game 2, and Games 5 and 7 if need be, and yes, Florida won’t be shy to allow thousands of screaming Bolts fans in the arena.
If Sorokin can handle stopping pucks with Kremlin bosses looking down from luxury boxes, he can handle people who yell loud in Tampa…and the Islanders might just handle the Bolts, too.
Pick: Islanders (+200)
Vegas Golden Knights vs Montreal Canadiens
Las Vegas is impressed with the “home team.” How impressed? The Golden Knights are a nearly prohibitive 1-to-4 Series Price favorite to beat the New York Islanders in Round 3, with the Isles drawing action at odds fatter than 3/1 to win the series.
Just because the Colorado Avalanche ran into the perfect storm in Sin City doesn’t mean Vegas automatically matches-up well with its next 2 opponents. Colorado’s 2021 team cultivated a style of offense with the fastest functional speed, and quickest-operating teamwork, ever seen in the modern NHL.
No rival was ever going to beat the Avs by building around the forecheck. Great backchecking and greater goaltending was the ticket to sandbagging the Avalanche, and the Golden Knights have possessed those qualities since coming into the league. Now, it could be Las Vegas playmakers like Pacioretty who have their turn being frustrated and unable to score.
Carey Price is playing like he really wants to make the 2022 Canadian Olympic Team, and at this rate, he’s definitely going to earn a roster spot with the Maple Leaf. If Montreal can match the grit of Golden Knight checking lines and counterattack when Vegas overextends trying to jam-in a goal on Price, the Canadiens will have chances to steal the momentum and the 7-game series.
As with most 3-to-1 wagers, chances are the Canadiens will just become the latest Hab casualty of USA’s dominance in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But the chances are far better than 1-in-3 that Montreal will score the upset. Readers who take WagerBop’s Series Price advice for the semifinal round will win some kind of substantial % payoff unless Vegas plays Tampa for Lord Stanley’s grail, assuming unit-bet discipline isn’t forgotten about.
Winnipeg scored 170 goals in 2020-21 and only 3 in the final 3 games of Montreal’s sweep-victory in the division finals. So it’s said that NHL clubs from Canada (and the Islanders, for that matter) lose their luster in late springtime, but talk is cheap compared to recent outcomes, especially in June.
Since we’re touting Series Prices with great gallons of juice on the favorites and low-risk odds on well-rested underdogs, the very least an honest NHL analyst can do is believe our eyes.
Pick: Canadiens (+340)
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.