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 update 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.
Colorado Avalanche (BetMGM Cup Odds: 3.00)
The Preds put up a fight, but even when they managed to gain a lead, the Avs’ overwhelming offense responded right away, completing a sweep when no other series featured less than six games. Being able to split up their big three and playing Gabriel Landeskog on the second line is a luxury, and at no point did the Avs ever feel they had to stack one line. It seems unlikely they’ll do it against the Blues unless they desperately need a goal because the Blues are so deep, and if the Avs stack one line playing Landeskog with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, it leaves their three other lines vulnerable to exploitation. Cale Makar has been a huge difference maker, and he’ll likely be the biggest ‘X’ factor again as the best defenseman – by far – between the two teams. As with any series, goaltending will be a huge factor, too, and good thing Darcy Kuemper is expected to be healthy after a scary eye injury because Jordan Binnington looks like he’s channelling his 2019 Cup-winning form.
Best Path: In the Round 1 preview, I noted the Avs’ best path would be to finish off the Preds quickly and hope the Wild and Blues beat each other into oblivion so the winner limps into the second round. That didn’t quite happen as the Blues ditched the Wild in six games, and over the course of the series looked better and better, especially after Binnington took over for Ville Husso. The Avs, however, are an easy handicap because they just look like the best team in the league, and it won’t matter which team they face in the following round or in the Finals. In any matchup, they will be the favorites at 3:1 odds to win the Cup.
Top playoff picks: Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, Darcy Kuemper
Depth playoff picks: Nazem Kadri*, Valeri Nichushkin, André Burakovsky, Devon Toews
Players to watch: It’s crazy to think that the Avs still aren’t running at full efficiency with Rantanen yet to score a goal and Kadri staying relatively quiet with three points. They made such quick work of the Preds that we likely haven’t seen their best or even seen them face any adversity, and it’ll have to be all hands on deck against the Blues. Look for Rantanen to bust his slump, and given the Blues’ physical style, Kadri should be a much bigger factor. Don’t forget, it was Kadri who knocked out Justin Faulk in the playoffs last time they met, and he will be part of their focus no matter what.
St. Louis Blues (BetMGM Cup Odds: 17.00)
In the end, the Wild remained far too reliant on Kirill Kaprizov, and when Kevin Fiala, Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello – their remaining top four scorers of the regular season – combine for just one goal in six games, they just didn’t give themselves much of a chance against one of the league’s deepest teams. The Blues on the other hand, despite being the longest shots at 17:1 odds, have one of the most balanced lineups with eight different players who managed to score a goal, including five each from Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron. Their production and solid goaltending thanks to Jordan Binnington masked a lot of holes on defense, which ended up using 10 different players due to various injuries. The Blues killed off 20 of 24 power plays against the Wild, and the margin for error in that department will be much smaller against a much tougher Avs power play.
Best Path: Eliminating the Wild was a little easier than anticipated, which provided a little extra rest and a confidence boost. That could be crucial in trying to keep up with the Avs, who have blazing team speed and shutting them out is a near impossibility. But the Blues can still win because their offense runs three lines deep with nine (!) 20-goal scorers, two more than the Avs. If the Blues’ fourth line, anchored by Tyler Bozak and Alexei Toropchenko, can supply quality minutes and a goal or two, it could make a difference. Special teams will be key; the Blues PK has also been better than the Avs PK both in the playoffs (83.3% vs. 76.9%) and the regular season (84.1% vs. 79.7%), and the Blues have been much better at drawing penalties with 5.50 penalties draw per 60 minutes compared to the Avs’ 4.83 penalties drawn. If the Blues reach the next round, the Oilers are the more favorable matchup for them because the Flames are deeper.
Top playoff picks: Ryan O’Reilly*, David Perron*, Vladimir Tarasenko*
Depth playoff picks: Brandon Saad, Pavel Buchnevich, Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Brayden Schenn**, Justin Faulk**, Jordan Binnington
Player to watch: Buchnevich finished the season with 30 goals, second-best on the team, but failed to score a single goal on 15 shots against the Wild. He’s getting his chances, especially when Robert Thomas is on the ice, who also did not score a goal against the Wild but has created very good scoring chances and analytically ranks as one of the Blues’ best forwards. Buchnevich also went without a goal in three games against the Avs during the season, even though he put up 10 shots. It might be time for him to find the score sheet.
Betting trend: Binnington’s play may cause some trepidation, but given that the high-scoring trends have continued into the playoffs, better the over should continue to pay off for any games that feature the Avs. The Avs hold a 2-1-0 edge in the season series with a combined average of 7.7 goals per game. Both teams have excellent power plays, but the Avs PK is significantly weaker and that could be where the Blues find the advantage, so Brayden Schenn, who is second on the team with 3 power-play points, and Scott Perunovich, who is filling in for the injured Torey Krug as the PP QB, could be good picks for player prop bets featuring power-play points.