NHL Playoff Picks: Ranking Eastern Matchups by Upset Factor
Eastern Conference Series by Upset Factor
Since the NHL went with its most recent playoff format, upsets have been plenty. Most notably, at least one division winner has fallen in each of the last five playoffs setting the stage for a wild card team like New Jersey or Columbus for the East this season.
You can’t trust seeding or home-ice advantage come playoff time. We look into each of the four Eastern Conference playoff series and rank them on the likelihood of an upset (odds via SportsInteraction).
4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers
Series Odds: Pittsburgh (-234); Philadelphia (+191)
Season Series: 4-0 Pittsburgh; 0-2-2 Philadelphia
After a slow start to the season, the Penguins are in championship form again. They started the New Year with a measly 19-18-3 record and had the third-fewest even strength goals but finished a with a 26-11-3 record and the most even strength goals. The Flyers are a streaky team but are 6-1-3 in their last ten.
The biggest mismatch here is the Penguins’ top-ranked power play (26.2 per cent) against Philly’s second-last penalty kill (75.8 per cent). In their four meetings, Pittsburgh not only swept Philly but outscored them 20-11 and converted on the power play at least once each time.
While the Flyers have the better defence, their goaltending is shaky, as always. Brian Elliott hasn’t been the netminder they expected and he has a horrible postseason track record.
This is Pittsburgh all the way and there’s high potential for a sweep.Pittsburgh Penguins (-234)
3) Tampa Bay Lightning vs New Jersey Devils
Series Odds: Tampa Bay (-337); New Jersey (+262)
Season Series: 3-0 New Jersey; 0-2-1 Tampa Bay
The Devils squeaked into the playoffs thanks to Taylor Hall who produced a career-season with 93 points. They swept the season series but they’ll be hard-pressed to do it in the playoffs. The Lightning outshot the Devils 124-93 and had the better power play and penalty kill but lost all three games by a goal (one by shootout).
What’s uncanny is how the Devils used three different goalies to beat the Lightning including a 51-save performance from third-stringer Eddie Lack. New Jersey has a solid PP (24.1 per cent) and Tampa’s PK is their kryptonite (76.1 per cent) but the difference in team depth is staggering.
Beyond Hall, New Jersey’s next leading scorer is 19-year-old rookie Nico Hischier whose 52 points is the biggest disparity between #1 and #2. Meanwhile, Tampa will roll out four 25-goal scorers including the one-two combo of Nikita Kucherov (100 points) and Steven Stamkos (86 points).
So long as Hall and one of their goalies catch fire, this will be a close series but Tampa is too good and too deep to lose four games.Tampa Bay Lightning (-337)
2) Boston Bruins vs Toronto Maple Leafs
Series Odds: Boston (-159); Toronto (+133)
Season Series: 3-1 Toronto; 1-2-1 Boston
The Leafs and Bruins are the must-watch teams of the East. These two teams have plenty of history most notably their last playoffs meeting in 2013 which saw Toronto lose in heartbreaking fashion by giving up a 4-1 lead in the third period of game 7 to lose in overtime. But that is entirely different Leafs team.
Toronto won three of their four meetings despite getting outshot in three of them. Frederik Andersen set a franchise record with most victories at 38 but also played 66 games so here’s hoping he has plenty of gas left as he’ll have to be huge against the Bruins.
Boston is the better team in almost every facet of defence but the Leafs’ PP (25 per cent) is deadly and the Bruins’ tendency to take penalties, especially from super-pest Brad Marchand, could cost them in what should be an explosive series that could go all seven.
The Bruins are a favourite to win the Stanley Cup but Toronto could send them home early.Toronto Maple Leafs (+133)
1) Washington Capitals vs Columbus Blue Jackets
Series Odds: Washington (-131); Columbus (+110)
Season Series: 3-1 Washington; 1-3 Columbus
Real original: Washington is expected to come up short in the postseason again. Even oddsmakers have lined them as the weakest favourite in the East and it’s all due to the matchup. While Washington won the season series, they were outshot in all four meetings and are facing Columbus that has been on an offensive tear.
Led by Artemi Panarin who has 36 points in 26 games since February 18, the Jackets have scored the most goals since the trade deadline and have gone 14-3-2. The onus is on goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who despite putting Vezina-worthy numbers hasn’t fared well against the Capitals.
Columbus blew out Washington in their last meeting and this could be a preview of things to come. Both franchises haven’t been examples of postseason success with Washington still hoping to advance beyond round 2 while Columbus still searches for its first series victory.
The Jackets have all the momentum and the reenergized offence paired with topnotch defence will be the difference-maker here.Columbus Blue Jackets (+110)
Best Canadian Sportsbooks for NHL Playoffs
It’s Christmas season all over again for hockey fans everywhere. The NHL Playoffs air on Sportsnet and CBC while these online bookmakers stay open for Canadians to get in on the action.
Read the reviews to find more detailed information on each book.
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