The first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs completed on Sunday evening. It was a round of play that did not feature a single game seven, capped when the Washington Capitals defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime of game six. With the conclusion of the first round, all of the match-ups in the 2nd round are now known. Here’s a look at those match-ups with betting odds mixed in for some neutral perspective.
Depending on which source you consult, the Washington Capitals are the betting favorite to win the Stanley Cup. Paddy Power sportsbook, for example, now make the Caps +320 (<—means 16 to 5) to win it all this season. That puts them a bit in front of +400 (4 to 1) Pittsburgh, the defending champions and 2nd favorites. In a cruel twist of fate, the top-two favorites will meet in the next round as Washington will host Pittsburgh.
The series won’t just be noted for the fact that it features the top-two favorites in the round of eight. It’s another instance of Sidney Crosby meeting Alex Ovechkin in the NHL playoffs. The previous results have gone Crosby’s way, and the Pens promise to be in the Caps’ heads because of that. How Washington will deal with the pressure will be interesting, but certainly, they stared down some pressure in the first round.
The Caps are a unique team in the NHL playoffs because as soon as something, **ANYTHING**, starts to go wrong, they get abandoned by a lot of their fans. I refer to Twitter for fan opinion more than anything, because I see that site as the search engine for common opinions. The Caps lost game two to Toronto, and there was a huge here-go-again type of reaction among Washington supporters. Note that other fan bases aren’t really like that (i.e.,. Calgary’s fans were still cheering down 0-3 and losing in game four). I still see Pittsburgh as potentially flimsy in net, and I look for Washington to survive this series, a result that would be enormous for the franchise and huge for the career of Ovechkin.
On the other half of the Eastern Conference draw, the first Wild Card is looking dangerous. The New York Rangers took out the Montreal Canadiens; the Habs exposed as lacking in proficient forwards. Ottawa will host this series by virtue of a higher-placed divisional finish, but I don’t think it redeems their chances. New York is killer on the road, and they were the better team during the regular season than Ottawa. The Rangers are a Wild Card only because of the strength of the Metro division, the division that still has three teams alive in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Not surprisingly, Ottawa is the last favorite to win the Stanley Cup with Paddy Power. Accordingly, the Sens might have trouble getting to game six in this series.
On the other side of the draw, the Nashville Predators have to have St. Louis spooked out. The Blues did a number on Minnesota, but it still doesn’t measure up to what Nashville did to Chicago. The Preds totally exposed Corey Crawford as a non-elite goaltender now with a sweep of what was the top team in the west. Importantly, the ‘hawks weren’t cold heading into the playoffs as they did well during the second half of the regular season. If anything the Wild were the cold ones and, for that reason, I put more stock in what the Preds did to Chicago than what the Blues did to Minnesota. I see the Predators advancing to the conference finals here.
In the last series, the Anaheim Ducks will host the Edmonton Oilers. Interestingly enough bet365, at +210, have the Oilers as the outright Western Conference favorites now. That would mean that the sportsbooks’ betting trends and/or the opinions of their oddsmakers favor the Oilers to make the Stanley Cup final. That’s interesting because bet365 is a huge sportsbook.
At stake in the series between Anaheim and Edmonton is a spot in the conference finals – as the hosts of those finals. With both Chicago and Minnesota out, either Anaheim or Edmonton will have home-ice advantage in the conference finals regardless of who they play in that round.
Anaheim will enter the series very well rested having swept aside the Calgary Flames in four. The Oilers just ‘Marooned’ the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night. That does give Anaheim the rest advantage additional to their advantage of experience. Furthermore, the NHL’s sometimes too-obvious-for-its-own-good love affair with California-based teams can’t be discounted.
Arguably the Oilers survived a tilted series in the first round, one that featured a parade of powerplays for San Jose in the early goings. Edmonton does have the best player in the upcoming series in Connor McDavid, someone that was quiet in the first round. However, the Oilers do have enough depth to punish a team that sags defensively toward its star player. There wasn’t much at all between Anaheim and Edmonton in the regular season, and I see a clean series lasting six or seven games. Milan Lucic’s experience is vital at this point in the season for Edmonton now.
With no game sevens in the first round, hockey fans are going to have to go through withdrawal for a bit. Edmonton/Anaheim and St. Louis/Nashville kick off the second round on Wednesday with the other two series to follow on Thursday.
New York advances.
Edmonton vs. Anaheim: fence sitting.