It was a very exciting week of NHL action as the best-of-five qualifier series and round-robin portion of the 2020 restart unfolded. The “official” kick-off of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs comes on Tuesday with half of the first-round best-of-seven series matchups getting underway. Let’s dive into today’s games to find some solid betting opportunities.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Tampa Bay Lightning – Game 1
The Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning will face off for the second year in a row in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and, this time around, the favored Lightning will be hoping for a much better fate. Columbus unceremoniously swept Tampa Bay in four straight games in the opening round of the playoffs last season. The Lightning will surely be chomping at the bit to exact some revenge in this series, and they just might have a team better equipped to make amends for getting ousted a season ago by the Jackets.
Tampa Bay upgraded their physicality quotient at the trade deadline in a serious attempt to make their team “tougher to play against”. Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow were two solid depth forward additions, aimed at providing not only more scoring but more grit. The Bolts added Zach Bogosian on their blue line to give them a greater physical presence, with all of these moves made to complement the team’s elite level skill and talent up front with some toughness and a better “push back” mentality. Tampa Bay enters this series following a solid showing in the round robin, where they went 2-1 with their only loss coming at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Columbus needed all five games to get past the Toronto Maple Leafs in their play-in series, wrapping it up on Sunday night with a 3-0 shutout win. The Jackets were terrific defensively and got a strong performance in net from Joonas Korpisalo, who will remain between the pipes for now with Elvis Merzlikins injured. I worry about the spot for Columbus here. This is a short turnaround, from a Game 5 win on Sunday night to wrap a tough series with Toronto, to a Tuesday afternoon Game 1 against a motivated and rested Tampa Bay squad. The Blue Jackets’ power play was brutal against Toronto and they advanced in spite of it. They aren’t as likely to survive Tampa Bay if their power play doesn’t improve.
I think there is a good situational bet here on Tampa Bay, who will be looking to come out of the gate strong and fast against a team that swept them in the playoffs a year ago. You can opt to go with the safer ML option at -175 on Tampa Bay here if you prefer, but I’m taking the Lightning on the puck line laying -1.5 goals at the very attractive price of +162 currently at BlitzBet. I’m also on Over 5.5 as I suspect a dip in the Jackets’ defensive intensity in this short turnaround for Game 1.
Tampa Bay PL -1.5 +162
Columbus/Tampa Bay Over 5.5 +114
Calgary Flames vs. Dallas Stars – Game 1
The Calgary Flames knocked off the injury-ravaged Winnipeg Jets in four games in the play-in series round, but things are about to get tougher for them against the Dallas Stars. Calgary shook off some of the demons of their playoff “Flame out” from a year ago, when they got dominated in five games by the Colorado Avalanche. The big concern I have for Calgary is whether that series victory against Winnipeg – who lost arguably their two best forwards Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele to injury in Game 1 – was more about the Flames stepping up their game at playoff time to a level they didn’t reach last season, or that they simply took advantage of a wounded opponent. Dallas is going to offer much more defensive resistance than Winnipeg did, as the Stars possess a strong blue line that was second in the NHL this season in fewest goals allowed per game.
Dallas had some injury concerns at first heading into this series, but it appears that Tyler Seguin – the team’s top point producer – will be ready for Game 1 after sitting out the last game of the round robin. The Stars’ #1 goaltender Ben Bishop also took that last game off, so he should be rested and ready as well. This could be where Dallas reaps the rewards of adding veteran forwards Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry in the offseason, as both of them bring tons of playoff experience.
Calgary’s defense was impressive against Winnipeg, especially considering they were without the services of Travis Hamonic, arguably the top shutdown defenseman for the Flames. Cam Talbot also temporarily quieted the doubts about the quality of Calgary’s goaltending, playing a strong series against the Jets that included a sensational 31-save shutout performance to close the series in Game 4. The Flames will need Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan to play as well as they did against Winnipeg, having combined for 9 points in four games.
Dallas is 7-2 in the last 9 meetings with Calgary. This should be a tight, hard fought series but I have to side slightly with Dallas here because I need to see the Flames show what they can do in the postseason against a healthier, more experienced and stronger defensive squad like the Stars.
Carolina Hurricanes vs. Boston Bruins – Game 1
The Boston Bruins clearly appeared to be the most unimpressive and uninspired hockey team of all the eight squads that took part in the round-robin portion of the NHL restart. Boston didn’t play like a team that was locked in mentally during the seeding games, and forward Brad Marchand even said the Bruins were treating those games more like an exhibition season. Boston has the playoff experience and the complete team at both ends of the ice to make another deep playoff run, but I have serious concerns about whether their struggles during the round-robin indicated a flat team lacking motivation or a sign of potential trouble ahead.
Even if Boston “flips the switch” and finds some intensity and focus in time for this playoff series against Carolina, this Canes squad is a force to be reckoned with. They rolled to a decisive three game sweep over the New York Rangers in the play-in series, thanks to a dominant top line performance from Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, and Teuvo Teravainen. This top forward unit played so well against the Rangers, they might give the Bruins’ top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak – known as the “perfection line” – a real battle in this series.
The Hurricanes held the Rangers to four goals in three games and did it without Brett Pesce and Dougie Hamilton on defense, two players who remain out for the start of this series. Boston did sweep Carolina in four straight games in the Eastern Conference Finals last year, but that was then and this is now. I’m not convinced the Bruins can easily get it together and play the way they are capable of until I see with my own two eyes. I think Carolina is a live dog in the series and I’m willing to bet it will take Boston at least a game to get their playoff legs under them and ramp up the intensity to a level sufficient enough to be able to beat a motivated and talented team of Carolina’s caliber.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Vegas Golden Knights – Game 1
The Chicago Blackhawks took down the Edmonton Oilers in their qualifier series but now will face a much sturdier defensive team, and one with more playoff experience – specifically winning playoff experience – as they face the Western Conference’s #1 seeded Vegas Golden Knights.
Chicago is dangerous against anyone they play because of their ability to score goals, and the Blackhawks had good performances from their best players in beating the Oilers. The Chicago attack was led by Jonathan Toews, Dominik Kubalik, and Patrick Kane, with all three averaging at least a point per game in the series. The Blackhawks’ power play was on fire in Game 1 against Edmonton but sputtered to a 1-for-12 tally for the remainder of the series. Chicago will need to cash in with the man advantage since they are probably up against it 5-on-5 trying to match the depth of Vegas, especially on the blue line. This is where the scales really get tilted in the Golden Knights’ favor.
Vegas’ top four defensemen are as good as it gets with Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb, Alec Martinez, and Nate Schmidt. Chicago doesn’t have that same depth on their blue line, which has been hemorrhaging shots, scoring chances, and goals against all season long. Vegas had eight forwards register multiple points in their three round-robin games, which speaks to the four lines of depth they have and the potential for the Golden Knights to receive positive offensive contributions from all of them. Corey Crawford is a veteran goalie for Chicago who still needs to be respected, but he is going to have to play even better than he did against Edmonton for his team to have a chance. Vegas has a very strong 1-2 punch at their disposal in net with Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury, both of whom are capable of being the team’s starting goaltender.
The Golden Knights will also have Max Pacioretty – who leads his squad in goals and points on the season – back on the ice for this series, as he joined the team in Edmonton over the weekend after sitting out the round-robin. There is just too much offensive depth for Vegas here against a subpar Chicago defense. Vegas also has the far superior blue line, which should result in a comfortable series win for the Golden Knights.
I think this could be the highest scoring series of the first round and the Game 1 total of 6.5 – the highest total for Game 1 of any series – is proof of that. I am going to recommend three totals bets here for Game 1. Vegas enters this series rolling offensively after scoring 4+ goals in each of their three games during the round-robin. Expect more of the same as they continue their quest for the Cup.
Chicago/Vegas Over 1.5 -145 (1st Period)
Chicago/Vegas Over 6.5 -104
Vegas Team Total Over 3.5 -130