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We’ve now reached the final four after an eventful second round and the two favorites – the Avalanche and Lightning – remain on a collision course to the Stanley Cup Final. Standing in their way are the Oilers and Rangers, respectively, who have defied the odds and erased major question marks regarding their depth and experience. It’s a matchup between two like-minded opponents with the Oilers and Avalanche pitting their superstar centers against each other and the Lightning and Rangers featuring a goaltending showdown for the ages.
Below are the updated 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 2 performance.
Colorado Avalanche (BetMGM Cup Odds: 2.20)
The Avs are right where everyone expected them to be, though the St. Louis Blues definitely gave them quite a scare, especially after pushing Game 1 to a nail-biter overtime loss and then limiting the Avs to just one goal in Game 2 to split the series. The Avs, however, having lamented a mental breakdown as the cause of their second-round exit last season after going up 2-0 against the Vegas Golden Knights, responded quickly by taking both games in enemy territory. Up until now, they are the only team in the playoffs to remain unbeaten on the road, and that record will be put to the test in Edmonton where Jay Woodcroft gets the matchup advantage with the Avs missing Samuel Girard, who formed one-half of a surprisingly effective pair with Josh Manson.
The outcome might’ve been different had Jordan Binnington and Torey Krug stayed in the series, and the Blues’ superior depth didn’t manifest every game. The Conference Final, however, will pit two teams with elite talent at the top of the lineup.
Best path: In their two final meetings of the season, a 2-1 shootout win for the Avs and a 6-4 victory for the Oilers, Nathan MacKinnon and Connor McDavid were matched against each other most of the time. That will likely continue, at least to start the series, though lineup adjustments and line matching may become a bigger storyline later on, just like in the later stages of the Avs-Blues series. The Oilers don’t have a Ryan O’Reilly-type player to limit MacKinnon’s impact on offense, and even then, the Blues were only somewhat successful; meanwhile, the Flames tried to match their top line – which was analytically the best in the league during the season – to no avail against McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, both of whom have 26 points apiece in the playoffs, 10 (!) more than the next highest total.
To win, the Avs have to do what they do best: score a lot of goals. Mike Smith had a .938 Sv% against the Kings in Round 1 and .907 Sv% against the Flames in Round 2, and there were quite a few goals allowed that were questionable, at best. The Avs will need to keep firing pucks on net to increase their chances of getting a lucky tip or bounce, and some of their depth scorers, namely Andr? Burakovsky and talented rookie Alex Newhook, have to be far, far better. The Avs have the edge in possession analytics, ranking first at 60.50% in 5v5 CF% and second in 5v5 high-danger CF%, per naturalstattrick.com. Darcy Kuemper needs to be sharp and the PK needs to be a lot better since they will face their toughest challenge yet.
Top playoff picks: Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri*, Cale Makar, Darcy Kuemper
Depth playoff picks: Valeri Nichushkin, Artturi Lehkonen**, Devon Toews, Bowen Byram**
Player to watch: It’s definitely Byram, whose five-point performance in the final three games of the series elevated him into a top-four role following the injury to Girard and a sneaky depth pick in playoff pools. Byram averaged 19 minutes over the final two games playing with veteran Erik Johnson, while Manson’s minutes diminished after losing his defensive partner and played just 14:30 in the series finale paired with Jack Johnson. Manson is still an effective physical defenseman, but the series is expected to feature a lot of back-and-forth, run n’ gun offense, and that style is better suited for Byram’s vastly superior offensive skillset. At the very least, it could take some pressure off Cale Makar, who may be the only defenseman in the league who can keep up with McDavid on open ice.
Edmonton Oilers (BetMGM Cup Odds: 6.50)
There were definitely fireworks in the Battle of Alberta – it was just a much shorter party than expected. McDavid and Draisaitl had an outstanding series and head into the conference final with 26 points each, and together have defied the expectations of what an elite player can do in the ultimate team sport where the best players often play just one-third of the game. Jacob Markstr?m was far from his Vezina-caliber self and that certainly was a big help for the Oilers, and their offense also provided enough goal support to bail out Mike Smith, who was simultaneously awful, especially in the first periods, and excellent, as he was in Games 2 and 3 to give them a series lead they would never relinquish. No one had expected the Oilers to come this far, having lost Game 1 in the opening round and trailing 3-2 in the series against the Kings. They’ve also overcome questions surrounding their defense, especially after losing Oscar Klefbom to injury before the season even started and acquiring an aging Duncan Keith, and then sticking with the oldest goalie in the league in Smith. Yet, here they are, just four wins away from reaching the Finals for the first time since 2006.
Best path: Can the Oilers win in any other way other than through their offense? The Blues were a deep, heavy team and at least were able to keep the Avs offense in check for stretches. The Oilers don’t have a shutdown center, their depth isn’t particularly good, their highest scoring defenseman is Evan Bouchard, who still can’t be trusted in key defensive situations, and Cody Ceci is second in TOI/GP behind Darnell Nurse. As in any matchup against any opponent, the Oilers’ best path is through McDavid. It’s worth noting that the McDavid didn’t score a single goal in three games against the Avs during the season, but he is clearly playing at another level right now. Analytically, Kuemper also grades out worse than Smith at -0.13 5v5 GSAA/60 vs. +0.07 5v5 GSAA/60, so the Oilers should have a slightly easier time scoring than the Avs, especially on the power play against a very mediocre Avs PK.
Top playoff picks: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Evander Kane
Depth playoff picks: Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse, Evan Bouchard, Mike Smith
Players to watch: Hyman and Nurse, who have to make significant contributions if the Oilers want to advance. Hyman scored only two goals in Round 1 but scored six in six games in Round 2, and he’s arguably their best natural winger beyond Evander Kane. Nurse and Ceci drew the matchup against MacKinnon during the season and if they can’t go toe-to-toe, it will present a lot of matchup problems for the Oilers. Nurse has come up big in moments but has not quite played like an elite No. 1 though nobody else on their blue line comes close to having the same tools he does.
Betting trend: Both teams are coming off high-scoring series and both team’s goalies have looked shaky at times, which means the over will be a popular bet in all of their games, though there likely will be little value in those bets and note two of their three regular-season matchups featured fewer goals than expected. The spreads can be a little kinder in the playoffs because coaches have become far more aggressive in pulling their goaltenders in recent years, and teams have also embraced the idea of going for the open net because it only risks an icing call and a defensive-zone faceoff, which is not a huge concern if you have a faceoff ace.
The Avs tend to strike first with a league-leading 12 goals in the first period in the playoffs – that’s a lot of danger for Smith – while the Oilers are by far the most effective team in the second period with 25 (!) goals, but generally speaking, the second and third periods remain the most eventful and should be the focus for any prop bets in goals scored in certain periods. Note also that the Oilers and Avalanche have been two of the best road teams in the playoffs with a combined 9-2 record, so if the money line favors the home team too much, there could be value betting opportunities for the road team.
– Feedspot Hockey News Fantasy