Following the qualifying round of the 2020 NHL playoffs, the remaining 16 teams begin first round match-ups starting Tuesday, Aug. 11. That includes the Vegas Golden Knights, a team that earned the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference after taking down the Colorado Avalanche Saturday night. Meanwhile in the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia Flyers stole the show over the past nine days by sweeping through the round robin portion to earn the No. 1 seed over the Bruins, Lightning and Capitals.
Now the Golden Knights (+550) and Flyers (+600) have seen their odds adjusted to become the two favorites to win the Stanley Cup – just ahead of the Avalanche (+625), Lighting (+800), Bruins (+850) and Blues (+1000) at DraftKings Sportsbook.
As you review the match-ups and seedings and get tempted by the series prices at FanDuel and DraftKings, know that seedings mean very little in this modified playoff format.
“Because there is no home ice edge,” Canadian sports bettor and NHL expert Brian Steinberg (Sherwood) told TheLines. “There is very little talent discrepancy between the last five or even six seeds in the West, and there is even more parity in the East.”
Sherwood’s point was already proven in the qualifying round with multiple upsets by lower seeds and significant series underdogs with the Montreal Canadiens (+190) sending the Pittsburgh Penguins (-220) packing in the East. In the West, the Chicago Blackhawks (+150) took out the Edmonton Oilers (-170), and the Arizona Coyotes (+110) defeated the Nashville Predators (-130). All those series were finished in four games of the best-of-five. Then, in the only deciding Game 5 of the qualifying round, the Toronto Maple Leafs were shut out 3-0 by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Leafs were a -170 favorite in both Game 5 and the series over the Jackets (+150).
“There will be more upsets as the playoffs continue,” Sherwood added. “Hockey is the most luck-driven sport of them all, and that’s why these underdogs win at a high clip.”
Golden Knights earn the top seed in the West
Vegas has opened plenty of eyes over the past week or so. The Golden Knights are the No. 1 puck possession team in the NHL, and the Knights were the best team in shot differential. Carolina was a distant second. Vegas has improved its defense with the addition of Robin Lehner in net, and the team has a new lease on life as it replaced its head coach mid-season. Peter DeBoer is a defensive-minded coach, and the Knights allowed close to a half goal less per game than before he arrived in mid-January. Since that time, Vegas has gone 18-5-2 and that includes three wins since play resumed. They played the seeding round without leading scorer Max Pacioretty, but reports are he’ll be ready to go as he entered the bubble on Sunday.
Flyers getting hot at the right time
The East is really up for grabs, as any one of the eight qualifying teams can get hot. The Flyers lacked the playoff pedigree or credibility of the other three teams in the round robin of Boston, Tampa Bay and Washington. Yet Philadelphia went 3-0 and outscored the other top three teams in the East 11-3 in three games. Philly is getting stellar play throughout the roster and especially the back half – with the stored talent pool of players chipping in.
Philadelphia has become a powerhouse in the East, continuing what was on display prior to the hiatus. In their last 18 regular season games since Feb. 1, no team had a better points percentage or scored more goals per game than the Flyers. Also, Philadelphia allowed the fewest shots on goal per game in the NHL.
In the Round Robin format between the top four teams in each conference, Philadelphia had the longest odds to get the top seed in the East, which they ultimately earned. In the West, Vegas was priced behind St. Louis and Colorado to get the top seed, but the Knights were Golden in going 3-0 to earn the top slot.
Should more upsets occur, understand that the NHL playoffs are not a bracket format, but rather the top remaining seeds in each round will play the bottom seeds. For example, if the No. 8 seeded Canadiens upset the No. 1 seed Flyers, then Montreal would face the highest remaining seed in the East in the semi-finals.
NHL first round match-ups, series odds
- Colorado Avalanche -250 vs. Arizona Coyotes +205
- Vegas Golden Knights -278 vs. Chicago Blackhawks
- St. Louis Blues -200 vs. Vancouver Canucks +165
- Dallas Stars -118 vs. Calgary Flames +100
- Philadelphia Flyers -240 vs. Montreal Canadiens +195
- Boston Bruins -137 vs. Carolina Hurricanes +116
- Washington Capitals -167 vs. New York Islanders +140
- Tampa Bay Lightning -225 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets +185