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@FastMoneyLabs’ NHL Playoffs Picks: Round 1

Packed arenas. Endless overtimes. More fights. Fewer penalties. Complete disregard for razors. Get your popcorn ready. It’s SHOWTIME. HOCKEY PLAYOFFS BABY.

The action kicked off on Monday night with back-to-back reigning champ Tampa Bay Lightning seeking to become the 1st team to win 3-straight Stanley Cups since the 1980-83 Islanders.

Do the Bolts have what it takes to 3-peat? Theoretically yes, but oddsmakers rightly penciled them as slight underdogs going into a tough Round 1 matchup vs. Toronto and they ultimately fell to a heavy 5-0 defeat. I personally view that series as a tossup and couldn’t get myself bet it. I’d rather put my money where I have higher conviction, such as the two series picks I’ll highlight next:

Eastern Conference Round 1 Pick: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers

Penguins are the better team. Rangers will win the series. Here’s why.

  • Home ice advantage matters. Especially in this matchup.
  • As the higher seeded team, NYR earned the right to host Games 1 & 2 at Madison Square Garden (MSG).
  • In two H2H matchups at MSG this year, NYR won both by a combined score of 8-1.
  • Since the trade deadline, NYR are 3-0 vs. PIT.

Pittsburgh could flip the script, sure, but they face an uphill battle. That’s because they’ll be without their starting goaltender, Tristan Jarry, to start the series.

  • He’s currently listed as day-to-day but was ruled out for Game 1.
  • This puts Pittsburgh at an immediate disadvantage vs. NYR who carry one of the best, if not the best, goaltenders on the planet in Igor Shesterkin.
  • In a tournament where hot goaltenders historically carry champions – Pittsburgh won’t have it, at least initially. And New York will.

For all those reasons, I like NYR’s chances to steal game 1 tomorrow (Tuesday). If I’m right, then I’m confident they’ll win the series.

  • That’s because Pittsburgh was mediocre at best in games after a loss this year.
  • They were just 18-18 in that situation and below 0.500 at home. If the Blue Shirts take Game 1, then the Penguins are in trouble.
  • Even if PIT wins Game 1, NYR was one of the best teams at bouncing back this year with a 19-11 record after a loss.

I’m a numbers guy and really do believe PIT has the better team on paper. But considering home ice advantage, goaltending, and the situational splits I just highlighted – it pains me to type this as a Devils fan – but I see NYR holding meaningful advantages that will prove to be the difference.

There are different ways to play this in the betting market. I’m going with this:


$FML's Eastern Conference Pick

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NYR to Win Game 1 & the Series @ +195
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Western Conference Round 1 Pick: Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche

I like the Predators this year but man, did they draw a brutal 1st round matchup. And it couldn’t have come at the worse time.

That’s because their starting goaltender Juuse Saros is injured and won’t be available in the series barring some sort of miracle.

That’s a real bummer and presents a major issue vs. Colorado who can score 5+ goals on any goalie any night, but especially vs. Nashville’s backups David Rittich and Connor Ingram, who have a combined 0 games playoff experience.

It’s possible the Preds steal a game when the series returns to Nashville for Games 3 & 4. But the most likely scenario in my opinion is a Colorado sweep.

Betting Colorado to win in 4 was tempting but to be safe, I preferred to bet the Avs to win in 4 or 5 games via the series spread.


$FML's Western Conference Pick

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Avalanche Series Spread -2.5 @ -102
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