This article is part of our Handicapping the NHL series.
Following a modified 56-game schedule that exclusively featured inter-division matchups, the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs are about to bring us two more rounds of divisional clashes. RotoWire will bring you a breakdown of each division ahead of the start of postseason play. AJ Scholz looks at the series and Stanley Cup odds courtesy of the DraftKings Sportsbook.
East Division Matchup
New York Islanders (170) vs Boston Bruins (-215) - Game 1 Saturday, 8:00 PM ET
During the regular-season series between the two clubs, New York held the edge with a 5-2-1 record though two of those victories were after regulation time. As expected, Boston will be led by its "Perfection Line" of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand that has combined for eight goals and five assists in the playoffs. New York's biggest star Mathew Barzal is still searching for his first tally but the Isles have gotten nine goals out of Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey. Between the pipes, it figures to be Tuukka Rask squaring off with rookie Ilya Sorokin, who has overtaken the starting job on the heels of an undefeated 4-0 playoff record and .943 save percentage.
AJ's Pick: The Bruins are so heavily favored as the series winner at -230 that I'm actually going to take the value play on the flip side with the Islanders +180 to win the series. Regardless of where you find yourself in terms of sides for this matchup, it's hard to imagine this being a short series. If you are willing to give a little juice, over 5.5 total games played at -139 makes sense to me but I'd certainly consider over 6.5 total games for +250.
Central Division Matchups
Tampa Bay Lightning (-139) vs Carolina Hurricanes (114) - Game 1 Sunday, 5:00 PM ET
It was the Hurricanes who won the Central Division and won the regular-season matchup by a thin 4-3-1 margin and yet, the defending Stanley Cup Champions are favored to win this series despite giving up home-ice advantage to the Canes. It certainly helps to have a presumptive Vezina Trophy finalist between the pipes in Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is sporting a .929 save percentage in six postseason appearances. The Bolts also have three of the top-five playoff points producers in Nikita Kucherov (11), Alex Killorn (eight) and Steven Stamkos (eight). Still, Carolina isn't without some stars of its own with Sebastian Aho, who has the second-most postseason goals with five, including a pair with the man advantage.
AJ's Pick: The Hurricanes continue to lead the league in shots per game with 42.3 and figure to put a tremendous amount of rubber on Vasilevskiy but the series could come down to whether Carolina and Alex Nedeljkovic can stymie the Lightning power play which is converting at a staggering 40 percent. It's not as big of a value pick as the Islanders, but give me Carolina to win the series at +114.
Stanley Cup Odds
After quickly dispatching the Blues in a four-game sweep, the Avalanche have seen their odds of winning the Stanley Cup drop to just +225 compared to +450 before the playoffs started. The Bruins and Lightning are both sitting at +475 after getting through to the next round while the Golden Knights, who would still need to get past the Wild in Game 7 on Friday, are tremendous value – bordering on long-shot odds – at +900. On the flip side, the Habs are trailing in their first-round series 3-2 to Toronto, making them the biggest underdogs at +12500.
AJ's Pick: Before the series began, I was going with the Hurricanes based on their unrivaled forward depth, offensive talent on the blue line and solid netminding. The first-round series versus the Predators hasn't changed anything for me, so I'm sticking with the Carolina Hurricanes (+700), who have also added the fan impact inside PNC Arena and will have home-ice advantage in at least round two.
AJ's Longshot: It's hard to ignore what happened in Winnipeg with the Jets quickly dispatching Connor McDavid and the Oilers in four games. The return of Nikolaj Ehlers to the lineup can't be underestimated, especially considering he tallied two goals in as many games and gives the club a solid second-line unit to spread out the scoring. Connor Hellebuyck currently leads all goalies with a .950 save percentage and 1.60 GAA, including one shutout, and completely shut down Edmonton's star-studded offense. At +1600, the Jets are certainly worth consideration as long-shot underdogs.