It was a tough slog through Round 1 with five Game 7’s. Despite a slew of lopsided scores, seven of the eight matchups were all very close. It’s a reflection of the parity across the league, where the difference between the first and eight seeds isn’t nearly as big as you’d think, and battles between the divisional foes and even the wild card teams were essentially coin flips. The margin for error should be even smaller for Round 2.
Below are the updated BetMGM odds for the Stanley Cup champion and an updated list of playoff pool picks for leagues that allow re-drafts or trades. Players marked with a * indicate those who have moved from the “top playoff pick” category to “depth playoff pick” category or vice versa, and those marked with ** indicate a new addition based on their Round 1 performances.
Carolina Hurricanes (BetMGM Cup Odds: 6.50)
It was a closer series against the Bruins than anyone had anticipated, and even after seven games, it’s still a bit of question mark how good the Canes are without a marquee superstar. Frederik Andersen may not return for the playoffs at all, and in key moments, who do the Canes turn to with their committee approach? Top center Sebastian Aho has the same number of points as bottom-line forward Max Domi, their unexpected Game 7 hero, and their leading scorers are a pair of defensemen in Tony DeAngelo and Jaccob Slavin. Nonetheless, the Canes have yet to lose at home, and that’s a good sign because they will have home-ice advantage against the Rangers and the Canes weathered the matchup game quite well after the Bruins tried their darndest to shut down Aho with Patrice Bergeron.
Best Path: The Bruins pushed back but couldn’t close it, and now the Canes face another tough opponent in Igor Shesterkin and the Rangers. However, the Canes were 3-1-0 against them during the season, which is likely why they’re more heavily favored at 6.50 vs. 15.00 for the Cup. Shesterkin showed some cracks against the Pens, perhaps due to fatigue, while the Canes get one more days’ rest before the series starts on Wednesday. If the Canes make quick work of the Rangers, they can rest before they face the Panthers or Lightning, who are expected to beat each other into pulp. Between the two, the Canes fared better against the Lightning (2-0-1) than the Panthers (0-1-2), though the games were quite close.
Top playoff picks: Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Tony DeAngelo*
Depth playoff picks: Vincent Trocheck, Teuvo Teravainen, Nino Niederreiter, Seth Jarvis**, Jordan Staal**, Jaccob Slavin, Antti Raanta
Player to watch: DeAngelo, because his even-strength play may be really vital to the Canes’ chances. The Pens-Rangers was hard-fought, but it featured few penalties and both teams were among the worst at drawing penalties per 60 minutes. Rod Brind’Amour had lamented how few power plays they get, and that trend may continue. DeAngelo feasted on the power play all season, but note four of his eight playoff points have been scored at even strength.
New York Rangers (BetMGM Cup Odds: 15.00)
Igor Shesterkin was shaky at times but generally excellent, and their top-end talent with Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad pulled through with the Pens getting inconsistent performances from Evgeni Malkin and absences from Sidney Crosby, Rickard Rakell and Tristan Jarry due to injury. Once again, the Rangers, who were crushed in possession metrics during the season, relied on their goalie to bail them out, but note that almost every player chipped in. Andrew Copp was a brilliant pickup at the deadline, Chris Kreider showed exceptional leadership qualities even without the ‘C’, and both Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko, two lottery picks who have been underwhelming thus far in their careers, chipped in with three goals.
Best Path: No matter what path, the Rangers’ best chances lies in Shesterkin. If he can repel the Canes offense, the Rangers should be able to find ways to beat Antti Raanta if given enough time. They’ve got the requisite depth so they don’t have to always rely on Panarin, Zibanejad or Kreider, and went 5-1-0 combined against the Panthers and Lightning in the regular season.
Top playoff picks: Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, Igor Shesterkin
Depth playoff picks: Ryan Strome, Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano**, Alexis Lafreniere**, Kaapo Kakko**, Jacob Trouba
Players to watch: Both Lafreniere and Kakko are scratching the surface of what they can do. It’s rare for young players to gain such valuable playoff experience in their careers because lottery picks usually end up on bad teams, but both wingers have provided the Rangers with some much-needed offensive depth. Against the Canes, they will need to step up their game and go toe-to-toe against their very balanced lineup.
Betting trend: There were some wild games between the Rangers and Pens, and the likelihood of blowout wins or losses should be far less in Round 2 against a tougher opponent. The Canes-Bruins series averaged 6.43 goals per game, just barely under the normal over/under of 6.5. It should be a close series with both games in the final month of the season decided by two goals or less, and with very similar home and road records. In the playoffs, the Rangers have been particularly good in the second periods with a league-leading 15 goals scored, more than their first and third periods combined (12), while the Canes have a tendency to start strong defensive with only two (!) goals allowed in the first period but seven and 11 in the second and third periods, respectively.