NHL ROUND 2 PREVIEWS, PREDICTIONS & BETTING ODDS
- Eastern Conference by Brandon Wamsley
- Western Conference by Brock Hartley
A1 – FLORIDA PANTHERS (58-18-6) / -154 FANDUEL
A3 – TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (51-23-8) / +150 DRAFTKINGS
This season was the first time in NHL history that all 8 teams in the same conference finished with over 100 points. We essentially knew our 8 playoff teams before 2022 even began. In a year of unprecedented parity, the Eastern Conference Playoffs lived up to the billing in the first round. For the first time since the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, 3 of 4 first round series in the East went 7 games. I would expect much of the same in our second round series and we kick-off with potentially the most exciting matchup of the second round. Let’s start with our 2-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning. It would be hard to imagine a tighter series than Tampa had in the first round with Toronto. Immense talent and star power on both sides lead to a high scoring fast paced series that could have gone back and forth seemingly forever. The Lightning prevailed, maintaining a status quo of sorts in the Universe where Tampa Bay wins and Toronto goes home in the first round. The upcoming series with the Panthers may actually be even more fun to watch.
Let’s start with the good for Tampa Bay. Nikita Kucherov has unsurprisingly paced the Bolts in points thus far with 8 points and on ice play that shows very clearly the Tampa Bay offense still very much runs through Kucherov. Victor Headman also showed up in playoff form with 2G and 5A while leading the team in ice time by an astounding 22 minutes (21:55). The only surprise for Tampa Bay would be the unsung hero of game 7, Nick Paul. A new addition to the team this season proved to be the perfect move to provide just enough depth scoring to get Tampa Bay over the edge in Toronto. So, now we must address what could hinder the reigning champs moving forward. The biggest issue for Tampa Bay right now was staring us in the face from the bench Saturday night, and his name is Brayden Point. The playoff hero from the Cup runs who was threatening the playoff goal streak record last season suffered an injury at some point and will be out for Game 1 on Tuesday night. Reports say the injury is Day-To-Day and Point will be back at some point in the series, possibly as soon as Game 2. In a razor thin series though, just one game could be the difference of moving on or going home as many teams learned last weekend.
The last point to address in Tampa Bay is something I can’t believe I am writing. Can the Lightning keep winning with below average performances in net? Yes, you read that correctly, and despite picking Toronto in the first round, I am pretty sure I still have my sanity. On Saturday night, Andrei Vasilevskiy earned his 5th straight shutout in a series clinching game, tying for the most in NHL history. So, what is the problem then, and what am I talking about? Well, shockingly Vasilevskiy was not his total shutdown self in the first 6 games of the series. Vasilevskiy posted a negative GSAA (Goals Saved Above Average) for the series and according to the analytics, was simply not great. Overall, through 7 games he currently sits at a -3.47 GSAA. In case you’re unfamiliar with this metric it means he saved 3.47 goals less than the average performance of goalies across the league. Many prefer comparing xGA to actual GA when analyzing a goaltender’s performance, well that isn’t good either for Vasilevskiy, who allowed 22GA with an xGA of only 20.6. Just for quick comparison, through last season’s entire postseason campaign Vasilevskiy was at +12.7 GSAA and allowed an incredible 20 Goals LESS than expected. Those numbers from last year are why the Lightning won the Stanley Cup. Those numbers also helped a lot in the first round series against the Florida Panthers last season. Vasilevskiy will need to be better for Tampa Bay to continue winning. Now, just because he hasn’t been himself so far does not mean any Tampa Bay fan should panic. Let me choose 1 guy to win 1 game and he’s my guy without hesitation. Seven games is a small sample size. I expect those aforementioned numbers to improve dramatically. The situation does need to be addressed though because as the Lightning play more and more games, they will not be able to keep winning without their all-world goaltender playing at minimum at an above average level.
We have talked about Tampa Bay enough, now we need to address the other team battling to be the State of Florida’s representative for the remainder of the postseason. If you asked NHL fans across the league who is the most disappointing team in the First Round? I imagine the answers would overwhelmingly be Toronto with some Minnesota sprinkled in. They would almost all probably at least name a team that lost. I have a different take on the issue, personally the Florida Panthers disappointed me more than any other team in the first round, and they won. That is coming from someone who picked both Toronto and Minnesota to win their series. Why? Well, Toronto and Minnesota ran into nightmare first round opponents due to the NHL playoff system and you can say the other team just won more than they lost. Florida cannot say that. Sure, they won their series, but they did in a very worrisome way.
As someone who chose Florida to come out of the East, I am not pleased with what I have seen so far. The Panthers earned the mantra the “Comeback Cats’ in the regular season, which was fine because it showed they could turn it on when needed and win games. Considering it is now the Playoffs and every game is crucial, I expected Florida to “turn it on” at puck-drop of every game. They did not. Florida trailed in every game against the Capitals except for Game 2. Had they not managed to overcome a 3-goal deficit, they would have found themselves in a Game 7 with everyone else. I’ve seen many people close to Florida saying they aren’t worried and that is just how this team is, but they always find a way to win. Well, that isn’t a winning recipe for playoff hockey. If they find themselves trailing that often against Tampa, having to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy (despite his recent struggles) to come back, Florida will lose and remain the inferior franchise in the Sunshine State. So, what can the Panthers do to win and truly take that next step towards a Stanley Cup?
The easy answer is simply to start faster, control the puck more often, and stop stupid turnovers. The best player and hero for the Panthers in round 1 was Carter Verhaeghe, posting 12 points (6G and 6A). Verhaeghe was always getting to the right places and made sure to capitalize on his opportunities, helping to carry his team to victory. New Panther Claude Giroux did his part as well, showing the team did right in making the move for him adding 7 points and 3 goals of his own. The rest of Florida’s top scorers goes as follows: Barkov, Ekblad, Bennett, Huberdeau. I list those to show Florida’s stars have all shown up for the postseason. If you’re a Florida fan you just hope they show up earlier and more often in the future. Sergei Bobrovsky had an outstanding regular season, but many wondered how he would perform in the playoffs given his shaky playoff resume. After 6 games I still can’t answer that question. He showed a bit of both in the first round. He only gave up 17 goals and had an xGA of 18. So, a bit better than expected, however he posted a -1.4 GSAA. So, if you consider those numbers, and look at the individual games, he was slightly better and slightly worse than average depending on the game, essentially meaning average overall. With a stacked lineup, can Florida win behind only Average Goaltending? I suppose we will see, but If Point gets healthy and Vasilevskiy steps up Florida will need a more solid performance in net to advance.
Finally, I have to make a pick here. In the first round, I advised betting on Tampa Bay while picking Toronto. I am going to do the same with this one. Tampa Bay at +150 for the series is where the value lies in my opinion. However, for the non-gambling reader or pure hockey fan I like the Panthers to finally oust the defending champ and take the next step forward for their franchise, I just wouldn’t bet on it, if that tells you anything about my confidence in the Panthers.
PICK: FLORIDA PANTHERS, 4-3
M1 – CAROLINA HURRICANES (54-20-8) / -190 DRAFTKINGS
M2 – NEW YORK RANGERS (52-24-6) / +172 FANDUEL
Wednesday night the New York Rangers head to Raleigh for Game 1 of their second round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. A Lot of people expected to see this matchup in round 2, no one saw us arriving here the way we did. New York was down 3-1 in their first round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and trailed game 5 2-0. Then Jacob Trouba hit Sidney Cosby and knocked out the best player so far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The outlook shifted dramatically and immediately, with the Rangers coming back to win game 5. Despite trailing again 2-0 in Game 6, and late in Game 7, the Rangers came back to win all of those games and the series. New York showed incredible resilience refusing to quit and that eventually led to a series victory.
Resiliency is crucial for any team in the playoffs, however the fact that the Rangers needed to be that resilient against Pittsburgh is a major problem. The Rangers came into the series as favorites and were expected to control the game and win a series that was not nearly as close. Instead, they barely escaped a series in which they were dominated the majority of the time. In case you didn’t see the games let me sum up the series in 1 stat. The xGF% in the series was 63.86% PIT vs 36.14% NYR. This means utter domination by Pittsburgh and that was the largest difference in xGF by any team in a victory since the metric has been tracked. Oh, on top of all that, the Penguins played shorthanded the entire series, missing many of its best players for some of the series and playing 5 of the games with a 3rd string goaltender who looked like a 3rd string goaltender. So, the Rangers were dominated by a team that was not even close to 100% and an underdog to begin with.
The Rangers will not continue to win playing how they did the first 7 games of the postseason and playing Carolina could be their worst matchup. Carolina is an outstanding defensive team that allows very little opportunity to score and rolls all 4 lines with a structure that has forced teams to play their game. That means if the Rangers get down early and often again, they will not be able to come back, and they will be facing much better goaltending as well.
The Rangers relied on Igor Shesterkin to win them games early in the season as their team metrics looked similar to those mentioned above. They looked to improve vastly in front of him heading into the postseason but reverted right back to poor play in Round 1. To beat Carolina the Rangers need to play like they did in March and April. They have to possess the puck more, get more bodies to the net and most of all stop allowing opponents in front of Shesterkin and all around the net. The types of goals Pittsburgh scored in round 1 are the types of goals Carolina can thrive on. The Rangers absolutely must do a better job of not allowing opponents to get to the net. The stars showed up for the Rangers in game 7, with goals from Kreider, Zibanejad, and the game winner from Artemi Panarin. Andrew Copp has been lethal since joining the team and finally the Rangers owe much of the series victory to the young guys with the “Kid Line” of Lafreniere-Chytil-Kakko carrying them through large portions of the series. With their young guys playing well and the top guys scoring, personnel is not the problem in New York. Shesterkin appeared shaky to start the series but the beautiful stretch pass that led to a Kreider goal seemed to ignite his confidence. He is going to need it because it is hard to imagine New York completely fixing all their issues overnight.
Carolina won a tight game 7 over their rival Bruins to advance to Round 2 after a very hard-fought series. When looking at Carolina, the first thing that should be mentioned is the play of Anti Raanta. Personally, I thought being without Frederick Andersen would be too much for the Hurricanes to overcome but Raanta stepped up and got the job done. Raanta had a +2.3 GSAA and was above average in every metric. This proved to be just enough to fend off Boston. The other storyline for Carolina is the point production out of the Defense. Carolina’s two leading point getters in the first round were both defenseman in Jaccob Slavin and Tony DeAngelo both with 8 points. This was a pleasant surprise for Carolina as they are incredibly good defensively but don’t normally get a ton of point production from their defense the way you might see from Colorado. This proved to be the difference maker in the series.
Boston did a good job defensively on the Hurricanes top scorers. Although they don’t always get that production from their defense, Carolina has excelled at getting scoring from everywhere throughout the season. I worried about the lack of true star power and top scoring in Carolina heading into the playoffs as did many others. Carolina proved they can get scoring from wherever they need it, when they need it. While some of the top scorers in Carolina’s lineup were locked down quite a bit against Boston, they should find much more open ice against New York. If the Rangers allow Carolina to dictate the game and show the lack of defensive awareness they did against Pittsburgh I would expect a lot more scoring from Aho, Svechnikov, and company in Round 2.
Reading up to this point you can probably guess who my pick is for Round 2. I like the Hurricanes to advance. To be blunt, Carolina excels at everything New York allowed Pittsburgh to dominate them in already. The Hurricanes do all those things even better than a decimated Penguins team. Carolina has much better goaltending than Pittsburgh regardless of if they get Andersen back or not which will make these short burst comebacks from the Rangers much more difficult. To be honest after watching Round 1 it is hard to imagine anyone picking New York here. Sure, they have the players, the talent, and the goaltending to win. I had them advancing to the ECF in my bracket because of the guys they have, but that was assuming they would play like the team we saw coming into the postseason. It is hard to imagine them flipping the entire script immediately which is what they are going to have to do. My only caveat here is to mention that if you are betting on the series, I do not love Carolina at -190. That is based on a win probability using what we have seen so far as data. While I do not expect the Rangers to completely fix the countless glaring issues they had Round 1, I would expect them to improve a bit, and if you priced this series before the playoffs started the price would look different.
Personally, I will not be betting a series winner in this one. If you really must, I suppose I can get behind Carolina a lot more than I can New York, just know that you are not getting proper value, at least at the -190 price.
PICK: CAROLINA HURRICANES, 4-2
C1 – COLORADO AVALANCHE (56-19-7) / -350 MGM
C3 – ST. LOUIS BLUES (49-22-11) / +310 FANDUEL
This is a bad matchup for St. Louis. That’s the simplest way to put it. You could make the argument that the Avs are a bad matchup for almost any team, but I feel like it’s a bad matchup especially for St. Louis. I’m not trying to disparage or take anything away from the Blues. They impressed me greatly in their Round 1 matchup against Minnesota. In my opinion they run the best power play in the NHL, sifting pucks through the seams with a level of ease that some teams cannot even find while passing around the perimeter. However, I’m afraid that special teams will be the only advantage that St. Louis holds. Collectively as a team, the Blues led the NHL in special teams play, posting a combined PP% & PK% of 110.87%. Colorado finished the regular season in 13th with a combined percentage of 103.8%. However, at even strength play the Avalanche have the edge in all three zones, and at all three positions. I expect Colorado will try to use their speed and rely on backchecking forwards to help thwart the cross-ice passes that the Blues like to make in transition.
A lot of St. Louis’ scoring comes from their ability to switch sides of the ice, giving their forwards space and forcing the opposing goalies to move laterally to make a save. I’m not sure how much success they will find against a Colorado team that excels at keeping their opponents on the outside in the offensive zone. On defense the Blues have made great strides in the 2nd half of the season, especially during their hot streak of play down the stretch in the regular season. But let’s face it, this Avalanche attack is going to put them to the test. Colorado is extremely flexible in their ability to generate chances. Their forwards have the ability to consistently generate scoring chances off of the cycle and from below the goal line. If you take that away from them, however, it won’t phase them. That’s because they can also generate a high-volume of dangerously chances from the point. Led by the most dangerous man to walk the blue line in the NHL, Cale Makar, the Avs defensive corps have no issue finding shooting lines and are constantly looking for deflection opportunities while they have a net-front presence.
Speaking of the net, I think St. Louis’ head coach Craig Berube will be forced to make a “mistake” in Game 1. Ville Husso got the nod over Jordan Binnington in Game 1 as expected. That decision was confirmed when he posted a 37-save shutout in St. Paul. He didn’t last long after that though. He allowed 5 goals in Game 2 and then another 4 goals in Game 3 before being replaced by Binnington. He would not return to the net after that, as Binnington won all 3 of his starts. So, I think it’s safe to say Binnington gets the nod in Game 1. It’s only natural. After all, when it comes to goaltending in the NHL, coaches usually go with the hot hand – and Binnington is certainly that. He allowed only 5 goals in his three starts, racking up 83 saves in the process for a SV% of .943. It almost isn’t even an option to give Husso the net back for Game 1, but I honestly believe that Husso would give the Blues a better chance to win against Colorado because of the differences in the style of attack between the Wild & Avs, as well as the difference in playing styles between Husso & Binnington. The Avs are a team that like to move the puck around. They do it often and they are quite good at it. I think this will be a problem for Binnington. Throughout the regular season Binnington would sometimes look lost during his lateral movements. Almost as if he didn’t have a feel for where his posts were once he started moving right to left and vice versa. Hopefully, for St. Louis’ sake, this doesn’t become an issue against a team that is unselfish and is always looking for that extra pass, otherwise the Blues could be in for some long games. Although it’s possible that Binnington remains hot and can give the Blues a fighting chance. That’s exactly what happened when he stormed onto the scene in 2019 and carried the Blues to a Stanley Cup Championship. Goaltending will be a major factor if the Blues manage to find success in this series.
I hate to admit it, since no hockey fans want referees determining games, but the refs could also play a huge factor in this series. We have seen a number of penalties called in Round 1 that were previously unheard of in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Despite the Avalanche rolling out some big names on their top powerplay unit, names like Makar, Mackinnon, and Rantanen, I think the Blues would be best served if we see a lot of 5-on-4 play in this series. As I mentioned, they boast the top combined special team’s percentage, which included the 2nd best power play. Lean on that. Lure the Avs into scrums. Get into their heads and make them take some retaliatory penalties. I think that’s one way that the Blues can find an edge against a superior opponent. In the end, however, I don’t believe it will play out that way. As I said, the Avs are the superior team, and they are also well-coached with great veteran leadership.
The Blues will put up a fight. I think they can take one or two games if they remain solid in their own zone and can convert on the man advantage. But the Avs have a good goalie of their own in Darcy Kuemper, and I believe they will just be too much to handle at even strength. I expect to see the Western Conference Finals to go through Denver.
Pick: Colorado Avalanche, 4-1
P1 – CALGARY FLAMES (50-21-11) / -190 DRAFTKINGS
P2 – EDMONTON OILERS (49-27-6) / +165 MGM
Oh boy. When it comes to this series, Samuel L. Jackson summed it up best – “Hold onto your butts”. This series should be a treat. After a first round that featured five Game 7’s, we get to see “The Battle of Alberta” in Round 2. This is without a doubt one of the best rivalries in NHL history and is thought by some to be the best & most heated present-day rivalry, myself included. Not only will the play on the ice be spectacular and closely contested, but out of all 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs the arenas of these two teams provide the top 2 raucous playoff atmospheres in my opinion. Not to mention these teams feature the most aesthetically pleasing crowds when you are watching on television. It seems like not only is every person in attendance wearing a jersey, but they all wear the same color jersey, providing the tv audience with a great feel of the “color rush” that teams sometimes implement in the postseason. But that’s enough about the fans, let’s get down to business. I expect this series to be brutal for those involved. These teams don’t like each other, and neither is afraid to let their feelings of contempt show.
In Game 7 against the Kings, the Oilers weren’t afraid to throw their bodies around. It seemed to work out well for them as they earned a 2-0 shutout. Calgary plays an extremely tight checking game and have a very sound defensive structure. I expect both teams will want to come out and establish some physicality early on in Game 1 to try and set the tone. With players like Evander Kane & Matthew Tkachuk flying around the ice it’s probably a safe bet that things will escalate from there, and that’s part of what excites me about this series. The linesmen should have their work cut out for them with the scrums after the whistle – I expect there will be plenty. So, who does this benefit? Which team is more likely to get into the other’s head? If I had to guess, I would say Calgary. Matthew Tkachuk is a born agitator. It’s what he does, along with producing points.
The Flames structure is also a little tighter than Edmonton’s, so it should be more difficult to get them playing outside of it. If the Oilers want to get Calgary rattled and second guessing themselves, Connor McDavid will have to be the player to do it. He won’t do it with physicality or with scrums after the whistle, he would have to do it on the score sheet – and he’s more than capable. He finally looked like the playoff performer we all expect of him in the series against Los Angeles. He led the way with 14 points, and at times it seemed as if he had changed the momentum all by himself. Even to casual fans this is probably common sense, but the approach that the Flames take to containing McDavid will be one of the biggest factors in the outcome of this series. Notice I said “contain”, not “shut down”. McDavid, along with Draisaitl, will find their way onto the score sheet. It’s going to happen.
The Flames just need to limit the number of times their names appear because the Oilers secondary scoring should be limited against Daryl Sutter’s shutdown defense. Beyond that, Jacob Markstrom will need to make some plays and bail his defensemen out on occasion. On the other end, Mike Smith will also have to keep up his hot streak of play, as he’s been known to get into a rut from time to time. I expect this series to be a tightly contested battle. In their past 22 meetings each team has defeated the other 11 times. The betting value is surely on Edmonton. However, from a sheer “pick ‘em” standpoint, I am backing Calgary since I believe they have the better ability to set the tone and make Edmonton’s game unravel.