2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Best Bets: Qualifier Round

The 24-team 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs will drop the puck beginning on Saturday August 1st. SI Gambling analysts Frankie Taddeo and Roy Larking break down their best bets for each series in the Qualifier Round.
Author:
Publish date:

How Do Opening Round NHL Playoff Qualifying Series Work?

When the season was paused on March 12, with 189 games left on the schedule, several teams were battling for the final playoff positions. To compensate clubs in contention, the NHL playoffs have been expanded from 16 to 24 teams.

NHL Stanley Cup playoff action includes eight qualifying series split between the Eastern and Western Conferences. These are best-of-five series and winners advance to the quarterfinal round. The higher seed is the designated home team in games 1, 2 and 5, while the lower seed is the home team in games 3 and 4. 

Toronto is the hub city for the first three Eastern Conference playoff rounds and all games will be played at Scotiabank Arena. Edmonton is the Western Conference hub city and all games will be played at Rogers Place arena. Edmonton will also host the NHL Conference and Stanley Cup finals.

Qualifying series feature playoff overtime rules meaning shootouts are eliminated and games can’t end in a tie.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES

Boston Bruins

Tampa Bay Lightning

Washington Capitals

Philadelphia Flyers

**Note: The play-in series will decide which teams will move on to the traditional round of 16. There, the top four seeds will then face the winners from those play-in matchups.**

***All odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook***

(9) Columbus Blue Jackets +148

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs -182 — Winner plays No. 1 seed

Vegas Whispers: I love Toronto’s scoring potential. The price is steep, but I like them to get beyond the Blue Jackets. That is where the fun will end with the Bruins waiting in the next round.

Pick: Maple Leafs -182

Roy Larking: Strength vs. strength will be featured in this series. The Blue Jackets allowed 2.67 goals per game (GPG) on defense, which was tied for third best with Arizona. Columbus ranked third last on offense scoring 2.54 GPG. Toronto was third overall with 3.39 GPG on offense but the Maple Leafs defence was bottom five allowing 3.24 GPG. Playing on home ice is a slight advantage for Toronto as the Maple Leafs posted a solid 18-9-7 record at Scotiabank Arena.

Pick: Maple Leafs -182

***

(12) Montreal Canadiens +184

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins -230 — Winner plays No. 4 seed

Vegas Whispers: Both teams will be able to welcome back key contributors in Jake Guentzel and Brendan Gallagher thanks to the extended layoff. Before his injury, Guentzel was on pace for a fantastic 40-goal, 90-point season. He thrived alongside both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and his return will prove to be too much here. Crosby and the Penguins advance here.

Pick: Penguins -230

Roy Larking: Pittsburgh played 69 regular season contests and averaged 3.25 goals per game (GPG) on offense while allowing 2.84 GPG on defense. Montreal played 71 games and averaged 2.99 goals GPG on offense while allowing 3.11 GPG on defense. The Penguins scored 42 goals on 211 power play chances and Montreal lit the lamp 33 times during 186 opportunities. The Penguins overall talent, plus a wealth of playoff experience, will be too much for Montreal.

Pick: Penguins -230

***

(11) NY Rangers +112

(6) Carolina Hurricanes -136 — Winner plays No. 3 seed

Vegas Whispers: I am not sure there was a hotter player on the planet prior to the shutdown than Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad. Add in the likely return of young phenom Igor Shesterkin between the pipes (injuries sustained in a car accident) and the Rangers are ripe to pull the upset at odds of +112. The Rangers keep their pre COVID-19 shutdown momentum going and pull this series out.

Pick: Rangers +112

Roy Larking: These teams met four times during the regular season and New York swept the season series. The Rangers posted 4-2 and 5-2 victories in Carolina plus 3-2 and 5-3 wins at home. One of the reasons I like the Rangers in this series is the New York offense. The Rangers top six scorers posted 373 points during the regular season while the Hurricanes top six recorded 302 points.

Pick: Rangers +112

***

(10) Florida Panthers +100

(7) NY Islanders -122 — Winner plays No. 2 seed

Vegas Whispers: After losing seven in a row and 11 of their last 13 prior to the shutdown, the Islanders could be one of the teams that uses the break to their advantage. The time off gives them time to get healthy both physically and mentally. I love what Barry Trotz will bring behind the bench in a shortened series. Give me the Islanders here at short-favorites to get past the Panthers.

Pick: Islanders -122

Roy Larking: Strong out of the starting gate, with a 16-3-1 record, New York closed with a 2-7-4 run down the stretch. Except for a six-game winning streak in January - Florida was inconsistent throughout the season. The Panthers posted a 5-6-2 record prior to the pause. The Islanders were 23rd with 192 goals scored on offense and tied for sixth with 193 goals allowed on defense. The Panthers were seventh with 231 goals scored and 28th with 228 goals allowed. New York is my series pick.

Pick: Islanders -122

***

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES

St. Louis Blues

Colorado Avalanche

Vegas Golden Knights

Dallas Stars

(9) Winnipeg Jets +104

(8) Calgary Flames -128 — Winner plays No. 1 seed

Vegas Whispers: Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck was one of the game’s elite netminders prior to the shutdown. However, Flames likely playoff starter, Cam Talbot, will be up to the task. Give me the Flames here to advance.

Pick: Flames -128

Roy Larking: The Jets and Flames met six times during the previous two seasons. Winnipeg won three games and the final score was 2-1 in each contest. Calgary posted a 4-1 win and crushed the Jets 6-3 twice. These teams posted similar scoring numbers during the regular season. Calgary averaged 3.00 goals per game (GPG) on offense and gave up 3.07 GPG on defense. Winnipeg was slightly better in both categories as the Jets scored 3.04 GPG and allowed 2.86 goals per game.

Pick: Jets +104

***

(12) Chicago Blackhawks +156

(5) Edmonton Oilers -190 — Winner plays No. 4 seed

Vegas Whispers: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Oilers will be ready for this series. The duo will prove to be the difference in this five-game series against Chicago. I like the Oilers to advance here with ease.

Pick: Oilers -190

Roy Larking: Chicago played 70 regular season contests and averaged 3.03 goals per game (GPG) on offense while allowing 3.11 GPG on defense. Edmonton played 71 games and averaged 3.17 GPG on offense while allowing 3.06 GPG on defense. The Blackhawks posted a 16-16-4 record on the road and the Oilers were 17-11-6 at Rogers Place arena. Edmonton led the league with 59 power play goals and playing on home ice gives the Oilers a slight edge in this series.

Pick: Oilers -190

***

(11) Arizona Coyotes +112

(5) Nashville Predators -136 — Winner plays No. 3 seed

Vegas Whispers: The Arizona Coyotes haven’t played in the postseason since 2012 and that streak will end this season thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and be awarded the 11th spot in the Western Conference standings. Both clubs are fairly comparable and the big thing will be goaltending. The Coyotes will have the edge here and we all know how vital goaltending can be in a short playoff series. Darcy Kuemper was in better form than Pekka Rinne prior to the shutdown.

Pick: Coyotes +112

Roy Larking: Although two of the last three meetings resulted in seven total goals, this projects as a low scoring series. Nashville averaged 3.12 goals per game (GPG) on offense and allowed 3.14 GPG on defense. Arizona struggled on offense, scoring 2.79 GPG, but the Coyotes 2.67 goals against average tied for third overall. Eleven players have been part of the last four Nashville playoff runs. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is the lone remaining player from the Coyotes 2012 playoff season.

Pick: Predators -136

***

(10) Minnesota Wild +110

(7) Vancouver Canucks -134 — Winner plays No. 2 seed

Vegas Whispers: Vancouver is a better team than most people give them credit for and I am surprised this number is not even higher in favor of the Canucks. They went 1-1-1 in this season’s series against the Wild, but on paper they’re the better team. They’re healthy. They own the league’s fourth-ranked power play and goaltender Jacob Markstrom is playing at an MVP level.

Pick: Canucks -134

Roy Larking: The Canucks and Wild posted similar statistics during the regular season. Vancouver averaged 3.30 goals per game (GPG) on offense and allowed 3.14 GPG on defense. Minnesota averaged 3.19 GPG on both offense and defense. With all games being played in Edmonton, Vancouver loses a regular season edge as the Canucks posted a solid 22-9-4 record at home but were 14-18-2 on the road. Minnesota was slightly better with a 16-16-2 record on the road.

Pick: Canucks -134