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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.

Tampa Bay Lightning (BetMGM Cup Odds: 3.30)

For the Lightning, who have been there and done that (twice), and feature a slightly older roster, getting the extra rest should offset any rust that they may have. The Lightning’s elite talent is undoubtedly their best feature, but a very underrated aspect of their identity is how they can win games in a multitude of ways, either by scoring a lot of goals or grinding out low-scoring affairs with strong defensive play. The Panthers didn’t put up much of a challenge, especially their anemic power play, but note the Lightning blocked a lot of shots, averaging 20.6 per 60 minutes, trailing only the Stars (25.6) and Kings (21.0). The Rangers deserve a ton of credit for making it this far, but as I said in the pre-playoff previews, the Lightning may have faced their toughest opponent in the Maple Leafs in Round 1.

Best path: Andrei Vasilevskiy will make sure the Rangers don’t score many goals, but the Lightning must find a way to get pucks past Igor Shesterkin, even if it means crashing into him once or twice. (Here’s looking at you, Corey Perry). The Rangers swept the season series, including a shutout win, and held a definite edge in the special teams battle. It should not faze the Lightning that they will begin their series on the road for the third straight time, but it will be tough to take a game at MSG where the Rangers are 6-1. There is no one path for the Lightning because they can play virtually any style. What it will come down to is execution, ensuring odd-man rushes don’t happen and making sure they know where Chris Kreider is on the power play.

Top playoff picks: Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy*

Depth playoff picks: Brayden Point (inj.), Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Brandon Hagel, Nick Paul, Ross Colton, Corey Perry**, Ryan McDonagh

Player to watch: Killorn, who surprisingly has yet to score a goal in the playoffs. Last season, Killorn ranked second on the team with eight goals, and in the season prior pitched in with another five goals. He’s one of the few players whose goalscoring rate is higher in the postseason (0.279 G/GP) than in the season (0.237 G/GP), and in a series where goals will likely be very difficult to come by, his presence in front of the net will be vital in scoring off rebounds and deflections.

New York Rangers (BetMGM Cup Odds: 6.00)

The THN Fantasy Action Show and pre-playoff previews noted that if the Rangers get this far, it’s probably because Igor Shesterkin has turned into a brick wall, and he definitely has. While he hasn’t been perfect – who is? – he has been the Rangers’ best player by far, continuing a season-long trend where the Rangers get caved in by their opponents in possession metrics and then rely on superior goaltending to win games. The Canes were only good for small stretches and the goaltending performances they received from Antti Raanta and Pyotr Kotchetkov were nowhere near what Shesterkin was able to provide for the Rangers. Their depth scoring suddenly dried up with Sebastian Aho forced to do most of the heavy lifting, and most importantly for the Rangers, managed to beat the Canes on their home ice, overcoming the disadvantages in not having last change. The emergence of their kid line with Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko has also brought another layer to the Rangers’ normally top-heavy offense, making them even more difficult to defend.

Best path: Basically, wait for Shesterkin to win them the series, just as he did against the Lightning during the season. Jokes aside, both teams should have a similar recipe to success: make life difficult for their opposing goalies. The Rangers are definitely shorthanded in this regard because Perry’s one of the best at it and he plays for the other team, and Ryan Reaves doesn’t play as much as either Brandon Hagel or Nick Paul, two other forwards the Lightning have who don’t mind crashing the crease. The Rangers will also need their top players to show up every game, and not just sometimes.

Top playoff picks: Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, Igor Shesterkin

Depth playoff picks: Ryan Strome, Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil**, Jacob Trouba

Player to watch: Artemi Panarin was rather quiet against the Canes, and it’s worth noting he has only one (!) career goal against the Lightning in 14 games, the lowest total against any opponent except for the expansion Kraken. He scored just one goal and three assists against the Canes, and in a pivotal Game 7 finished with one assist and two shots on goal in a 6-2 rout.

Betting trend: If the Avs-Oilers series encourages hammering the over on over/under bets, then this series demands hammering the under. Vasilevskiy and Shesterkin are arguably the two best goalies in the world, and both come into the conference final at the top of their games with Vasilevskiy coming in with a .981 Sv% and 0.75 GAA in Round 2 and Shesterkin with a .949 Sv% and 1.72 GAA.

Expect a low-scoring tight series even though the Lightning have a wealth of experience, which means betting the spread won’t be nearly as attractive. There have been only 12 overtimes in the playoffs this season after 28 in 2019-20 and 27 in 2020-21, which are the two highest totals in league history. The 2022 playoffs are well off that pace despite increased parity across the league, but it could mean that there’s a slew of bonus hockey coming our way.

– Feedspot Hockey News Fantasy

NHL Hockey Playoffs
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