All eight first round NHL playoff series have gotten underway over the last two nights. In the East, the Capitals, Hurricanes, Maple Leafs and Penguins have gotten out to a 1-0 series lead. In the West, Colorado, St. Louis, Calgary and Los Angeles are off and running.
It's only been eight games, but we've seen it all so far. We had a triple overtime thriller at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. We've seen both Pittsburgh and Nashville already have to turn to goaltenders that started the season at number three on the depth chart. We saw the favorite in the West absolutely dominate their opponent, while we saw the favorite in the East fall behind in the series and relinquish home-ice advantage.
This is an awesome time to take a look at the betting market, because things have moved. Obviously, in a best-of-seven game series, each win is important. But has the market moved too much? Sure, teams that win Game 1 of a series win the series more often than they lose, but it's not a death knell. In the 2021 playoffs, a team came back from losing the opener to go on and win the series six out of 15 times.
There are so many different narratives at play in the postseason. A team isn't in trouble until they lose at home. Losers of long overtime games are mentally demoralized. This team can't possibly go down two games to none at home. This team has an insane home-ice advantage. This team is too young. This team doesn't defend well enough. This team's style of play is built for the playoffs. All of these narratives can be true at different times, but it's up to us as bettors to determine which are real and which are noise.
Let's take a look at the four series set to faceoff on Wednesday night, and see how the market has moved after Game 1.
Carolina vs. Boston
Game 1 result: Carolina 5 - Boston 1
Series price prior to Game 1: Carolina -120 (54.6% chance of advancing)
Series price after Game 1: Carolina -200 (66.7% chance of advancing)
Game 2 line: Carolina -120/Boston +100
Right off the bat, we have a doozy. The final score in this game certainly flatters Carolina, from numerous vantage points. First off, the game was tied 0-0 until the final four minutes of the second period. It was a one-goal game midway through the third, and Carolina had a two goal lead until the final four minutes where the Hurricanes added two insurance goals, including one into an empty net that was excruciating for under bettors. Carolina won the game without much issue, but it wasn't the blowout a 5-1 scoreline would suggest.
Secondly, you can make the case that the Bruins were the better team. If you take a look at MoneyPuck.com's "deserve to win o'meter," it says that Boston wins this game 50.3% of the time after 1000 simulations. If you adjust for score effects and venue, Boston had a 2.1 to 1.6 advantage in terms of expected goals at 5-on-5.
This might make you feel good about the Bruins, but there's another massive takeaway that I took from Game 1. Even with Frederik Andersen on the mend, Carolina has the goaltending advantage in this series with Antti Raanta. A large part of my pre-series handicap was that the Hurricanes' goaltending advantage would be largely depleted with the injury to their number one goalie, but Raanta was spectacular in Game 1.
Boston has gone from +100 to win the series before Game 1, to now being +170 to advance prior to Game 2. If they steal one on the road in Game 2, they'll become series favorites heading back to Boston. The Bruins played better than the score would indicate in the opener, but is it enough for you to have confidence in backing them here?
Toronto vs. Tampa Bay
Game 1 result: Toronto 5 - Tampa Bay 0
Series price prior to Game 1: Toronto -120 (54.6% chance of advancing)
Series price after Game 1: Toronto -200 (66.7% chance of advancing)
Game 2 line: Toronto -140/Tampa Bay +115
In case you didn't know how or why the two-time defending champions were underdogs in this series, you quickly learned why in Game 1. Toronto looked dominant and Tampa Bay looked about as bad as I remember seeing them look in years.
Nevertheless, it's one game, and it counts the same whether you get blown out or you lose in triple overtime. I think we'll learn a lot about how this series will go in Game 2. The narratives are there. Toronto has a history of losing in the playoffs, including blowing multiple 3-1 series leads in the last decade. This group seems motivated to put an end to that narrative. Tampa Bay is the back-to-back champion, but with the pandemic compressing everything and therefore shortening offseasons the last few years, they've played a lot of hockey in the last 21 months.
The most important takeaway from Game 1 was the special teams. The teams combined to have 11 powerplays. The Lightning had an early five minute major powerplay that they fumbled away in epic fashion. The Leafs scored a 5-on-3 goal. If the referees continue to call the game tightly, advantage Leafs, who have the best powerplay in hockey.
Tampa Bay is +165 to come back and win the series and keep their dream of a three-peat alive. The Lightning were +100 to win the series prior to Game 1.
Minnesota vs. St. Louis
Game 1 result: St. Louis 4 - Minnesota 0
Series price prior to Game 1: Minnesota -165 (62.3% chance of advancing)
Series price after Game 1: St. Louis -190 (65.5% chance of advancing)
Game 2 line: Minnesota -140/St. Louis +115
This is another example of where the score doesn't tell the whole story. The Blues came away with a statement 4-0 win on the road, but this game was relatively even played throughout and was decided by two factors: special teams and goaltending.
At 5-on-5, Minnesota had a 1.47 to 1.00 advantage in terms of expected goals. In all situations, the Wild still had a 3.4 to 3.2 advantage. Our friends at MoneyPuck claim that the Blues win Game 1 just 48% of the time if it was replayed 1000 times.
However, David Perron scored two powerplay goals for the Blues and Minnesota went 0-for-6 with the man advantage. In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't terrible for Minnesota, but Ville Husso was spectacular for the Blues, posting a shutout while stopping 3.4 goals above expectation.
After losing home-ice advantage, the Wild are +155 to come back and win the series. This series still projects as an extremely close affair, despite the lopsided scoreline in Round 1. This might be a series where you can get both teams at plus-money at various points. In fact, that's already been the case.
Edmonton vs. Los Angeles
Game 1 result: Los Angeles 4 - Edmonton 3
Series price prior to Game 1: Edmonton -250 (71.4% chance of advancing)
Series price after Game 1: Edmonton -115 (53.5% chance of advancing)
Game 2 line: Edmonton -200/Los Angeles +165
The antennas are up in Edmonton. They entered the series as massive favorites, and they've relinquished home-ice advantage after just one game. As a result, the oddsmakers now basically have the winner of this series as a toss-up.
We know what the Oilers are. They're a team driven by top-end talent. Connor McDavid had a highlight reel goal in Game 1. Leon Draisaitl also scored. The question is whether there's enough beyond those two on the roster, and one of those major questions is in net.
Mike Smith had one of the better stretches of his career to end the regular season, but he was not sharp in Game 1. His puckhandling gaffe resulted in chaos that allowed the Kings to score the winner with just over five minutes left in Game 1. Smith was outdueled by Jonathan Quick in the series opener.
However, another look at MoneyPuck.com tells us that Edmonton wins Game 1 about 70% of the time if it's played 1000 times. Edmonton had a 4.2 to 2.6 expected goal advantage in the opener.
However, you can also look at this from a positive perspective for the Kings. Two of Edmonton's three goals came on the powerplay. Edmonton had nearly 2.4 expected goals with the man advantage. At 5-on-5, Los Angeles had a 2.36 to 1.85 advantage in terms of expected goals, and they outscored the Oilers 4-1.
The Oilers had four powerplays in the series opener, and if the Kings could cut that number down even a little, they can hang with the Oilers. Los Angeles might not have the star power the Oilers do, but Edmonton is a flawed team behind McDavid and Draisaitl.
Surely, with Edmonton now just -115 to win the series, it's a tempting bet for most bettors. The Oilers profile as the better team here and we're getting a significant discount from what the price was just two days ago. It's very hard to trust this team, but I can see why some would be tempted to buy the dip with Edmonton.