The annual chase for the Stanley Cup is finally here, and there are 16 teams hoping to raise the National Hockey League’s trophy in early June. One of the many things that make the hockey postseason special is that there always appears to be a couple of notable upsets along the way.
Chicago captured the Stanley Cup last year for the first time since 1961, and cashed tickets after opening the season as a +1000 long shot. Pittsburgh hoisted the trophy in 2009 after starting the year at +1200. Will another long shot emerge from this year’s Stanley Cup chase to provide a nice payday on a futures wager?
Let’s take a closer look at the four first-round series in the Eastern Conference to see if there are any potential upsets. Just last season, Philadelphia advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals as the East’s seventh seed. More No. 1 seeds have lost in the first round than have won the Stanley Cup the previous seven finals.
(1) Washington (-205) vs. (8) New York Rangers (+175)
Washington is the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the second straight season, but the team is hoping that history does not repeat itself. The Capitals were bumped in the first round of last year’s playoffs by eighth-seed Montreal.
Washington is led by one of the best players in the game in Alexander Ovechkin, and the team finished the regular season with 107 points. The Capitals and Rangers met in the 2009 postseason, and Washington eventually advanced after trailing three games to one.
Both teams rely on defense to win games, with the Capitals ranking fourth in goals allowed per game and New York ranking fifth. The road team is 6-2 the last eight meetings in this series, while the ‘over’ is 5-2-1.
The Rangers went 3-1 against Washington this season, while the ‘over’ went 3-1. New York prevailed Dec. 12 as a 100 home underdog, 7-0, Jan. 24 in a shootout as a 160 road ‘dog, 2-1, and Feb. 25 as a 146 road ‘dog, 6-0. The Capitals' lone victory occurred Nov. 9 as 140 road ‘chalk,’ 5-3.
Washington is currently listed at 4/1 to win this year’s Stanley Cup, trailing just Vancouver at 3/1. New York opened the year as a 45/1 long shot to win, and will take the ice in its first-round series as a 30/1 selection.
(2) Philadelphia (-155) vs. (7) Buffalo (+135)
Philadelphia concluded the regular season by going an average 9-9-7 its last 25 games that included a 1-3-2 stretch the final six outings. Meanwhile, Buffalo has gone a robust 28-11-6 since Jan. 1 and is one of the league’s hottest teams hitting the playoffs.
One key matchup in this series figures on being the Sabres offense against the Flyers goaltenders. Buffalo ranked ninth in the league in offense by lighting the lamp 245 times for an average of 2.9 goals per contest. Philadelphia has a couple of options between the pipes that could very well determine this first-round series. Do the Flyers play rookie Sergei Bobrovsky who had a great season but struggled down the stretch, or proven veteran Brian Boucher?
Buffalo and Philadelphia split four games this season, with the Sabres winning the most recent encounters. The Sabres upended the Flyers Friday in overtime as a 114 home favorite, 4-3. The ‘over’ occurred in all four meetings this season, and a solid 19-6-1 the previous 26 encounters.
Philadelphia opened as a 12/1 selection before being bet to a current 7/1, while Buffalo has remained a constant 25/1 throughout the season. The Sabres have won the previous two playoff series with the Flyers in 2001 and 2006, but Philadelphia has a 5-3 series advantage that includes a victory in the 1975 Stanley Cup Finals.
(3) Boston (-205) vs. (6) Montreal (+175)
Boston and Montreal are one of hockey’s most historic rivalries between a pair of Original Six teams. The hostilities aren’t just confined to the history pages, especially after the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara knocked the Habs’ Max Pacioretty into a stanchion last month that resulted in a concussion and serious neck injury.
Boston is a physical team, while Montreal relies more on its quickness. However, can the Bruins physical style of play result in numerous power plays for a Habs team that ranks seventh in power play goals? Boston will take the postseason ice hoping to exercise any playoff demons from last years’ 3-0 series collapse versus Philadelphia.
Montreal went 4-2 against Boston this season, winning Nov. 11 as a 152 road ‘dog, 3-1, Dec. 16 as a 119 home ‘chalk,’ 4-3, Jan. 8 in overtime as a 109 home favorite, 3-2, and March 8 as a 105 home selection, 4-1. The Bruins triumphed Feb. 9 as 163 home ‘chalk,’ 8-6, and dominated the Habs in the last encounter March 24 as a 163 home favorite, 7-0. Montreal is now 9-3 the last 12 encounters with the Bruins, while the ‘over’ is 5-2-2 the previous nine meetings in Boston.
The Bruins have seen their odds improve from 20/1 to 8/1 to win the Stanley Cup, while rival Montreal has moved slightly from 30/1 to 25/1.
(4) Pittsburgh (-160) vs. (5) Tampa Bay (+140)
This series might just be defined by who is not participating as to which players will take to the ice. Pittsburgh will be without star forward Sidney Crosby as he continues to recover from a concussion, while Evgeni Malkin continues to serve a league suspension.
The highest goal scorer in this series now shifts to Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, who finished second in the league in scoring this season despite scoring just two goals the final 13 games. For the Lightning to advance, they will also need solid contributions from Martin St. Louis, Steve Downie and Ryan Malone.
The Penguins will have to rely on their defense until they get some of their offensive stars back on the ice. Pittsburgh ranks third in the league in winning percentage in one-goal games, seventh in goals against and the team leads the league in penalty-kill percentage.
These teams split four games during the regular season, and the favorite is 8-3 the past 11 meetings. The ‘under’ is 13-5-1 the previous 19 games in this series.
The Penguins are one of just four playoff teams that have seen their future odds decrease after opening the year as one of the favorites. Pittsburgh opened the year as one of the favorites at 6/1, but the team now takes the ice as a 10/1 selection. Tampa Bay has seen the biggest increase of any postseason squad, moving from an opening 45/1 to a current 15/1.