Pittsburgh heads into the first round of the NHL playoffs as the top seed and favorites in the Eastern Conference, but they have to get past a longtime rival first in one of four intriguing NHL betting matchups.
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (8) New York Islanders
Odds: Penguins -400
The Penguins wrapped up first place in the East a while ago and they got stronger at the trade deadline, picking up Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray. But they still have a couple questions to answer: will Sidney Crosby play in this series after breaking his jaw a few weeks ago? And can Marc-Andre Fleury rebound from last season’s terrible playoff performance?
The Islanders are back in the postseason for the first time since 2007, and led by John Tavares, they were strong the down the stretch, but they’ll be in tough against the Penguins, who won four of five against New York in the regular season. Even without Crosby, Pittsburgh figures to be a strong favorite in this series.
Pick: Penguins in 5
(2) Montreal Canadiens vs. (7) Ottawa Senators
Odds: Canadiens -155
The Senators set up this matchup by beating Boston on the final day of the regular season, handing the Northeast Division title to Montreal for the first time since 2008. Ottawa’s Paul MacLean has to be in the running for Coach of the Year after the Sens’ injury-filled season, and getting reigning Norris winner Erik Karlsson back is huge.
The Habs struggled down the stretch and much of it is on goalie Carey Price, who has looked awful lately. Montreal and Ottawa each won two of four meetings this season, and this could be a series where goaltending steals the show, and Ottawa’s Craig Anderson may have the edge.
Pick: Canadiens in 7
(3) Washington Capitals vs. (6) New York Rangers
Odds: Rangers -115
Washington may have been the league’s best team over the last 20 games, and Alex Ovchekin showed that he is still one of the most dangerous players in the NHL. The Caps won the Southeast Division to snag the first spot in the league, but can they continue their roll?
The Rangers managed to finish sixth in the conference and they’re very familiar with Washington in the postseason as they’ve met in three of the last four seasons, with the Caps winning twice. However, the Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist in goal and have won two of three meetings with Washington during the regular season.
Pick: Rangers in 7
(4) Boston Bruins vs. (5) Toronto Maple Leafs
Odds: Bruins -225
Boston stumbled into the postseason and they looked distracted, which is acceptable when you consider what the city has been through lately. But they’re always a threat to go deep into the playoffs and have won three of four against the Leafs during the regular season.
But even though Toronto is making their first playoff appearance since 2004 and were bested by Boston in the regular season, they have the size to really battle with the Bruins and James Reimer has been playing extraordinary between the pipes. Even though they’re the underdogs, Toronto could stage a first-round upset on the betting lines with a few breaks.
Pick: Bruins in 6