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The first round's on us: NHL playoffs' best bets

Providing semi-qualified advice on who to take in the Stanley Cup playoffs
Cup Playoffs
Will Pittsburgh get a chance to crush Washington's hopes again next round? (via Keith Allison)

In a previous job, I used to write about sports betting. It was a uniquely frustrating experience because I quickly learned that no matter how much time, research or analytics went into a prediction, you still end up being wrong. Often. Most of the time, actually. 

Even the Stanley Cup playoffs a two-month war of attrition that is only supposed to see the strongest teams emerge from each best-of-seven series is loaded with upsets and weird results. Trying to pick a perfect bracket for this year's cup run is a fool's errand, no matter how much hockey you've watched this season. 

So instead, why not just rely on the wisdom of a former professional (me)? Sure, I'll be wrong. But I'll be less wrong than you. Trust me. 

Lightning vs. Devils

Let's start with a wacky upset right off the bat. A big source of joy this season has come from the misery and regret Oilers fans are feeling as a result of GM Peter Chiarelli's trades. They never replaced the production of Jordan Eberle and a draft pick they traded to the Islanders became Mathew Barzal, this year's shoo-in for the Calder. But the possibility that castoff Taylor Hall could win the Hart Trophy this year is the cause of so much sadness in Edmonton it won't be topped ... at least until he carries the Devils farther than the Oilers went last season.

It could certainly happen. The Lightning has the "peaked-too-early" look about them, particularly in net, where Andrei Vasilevskiy played himself out of Vezina contention after the All-Star break, posting just a .902 save percentage and a 15-8-1 record.

It's not the '80s anymore. Banking on the misery of Oilers fans is always a solid bet.

Devils in 7.

Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Toronto fans still bask in the honeymoon phase,

Despite a 50-year drought there's no sense of malaise.

"Our team is young, our window is wide,

We'll win a cup soon, let's enjoy the ride."

Only one result can put the franchise in doubt

It's not a stud like Boston winning in a rout.

The only way to stop the Leafs fans' fun,

Go into the third period, leading 4-1...

Bruins in 7.

Capitals vs. Blue Jackets

No matter who loses this series, pundits will heap the majority of the blame on a Russian player. Even though hockey is a team game, either Alex Ovechkin or a Sergei Bobrovksy will take the heat for an early exit. (Some might call that a Don Cherry on top.)  But while there's no reason to question the Great Eight's playoff production, Bobrovsky's .887 playoff save percentage is a little harder to get behind.

Besides, Washington has to win in order to continue the yearly tradition of losing to Pittsburgh in Round 2.

Caps in 5.

Penguins vs. Flyers

See above. Also, Philly is doing weirdly well in other sports. I don't think it would be healthy for them to win this series, too.

Pens in 5.

Golden Knights vs. Kings

Not only is this a mismatch by noble ranks, it's a mismatch by playoff experience. But there's more than the fact L.A.  has won two cups this decade behind the reason I'm picking them: I figure it would be a nice gesture to Vegas to use my considerable influence to drive down the betting line on the hometown team. 

Kings in 6.

Ducks vs. Sharks

The obnoxious face-punching tactics of Ryan Getzlaf and company will be no match for the face cushions of Brent Burns and company. Beards trump bastards. And sharks eat ducks. (I mean, probably. I'm not David Attenborough, I don't understand nature.)

Sharks in 6.

Predators vs. Avalanche

Long ago, Matt Duchene and the Avalanche wronged the Predators, ushering in an era of terrible offside reviews that continues to make the NHL the most confusingly officiated league in sports. Even with the power to go back and get offside calls right now with slow-motion, Nashville still can't catch a break, while inept reviews are a big reason Colorado is still playing. It's time karma catches up with the Avs. I predict Scott Hartnell dresses up like a Bridgestone ad and hides in Colorado's zone all series. Despite scoring seven goals using this tactic, the refs never catch on.

Predators in 4.

Jets vs. Wild

The Jets/Thrashers franchise has yet to win a playoff game, but all of a sudden their fans have grand dreams of ending Canada's championship drought? I guess ignorance begets confidence, and how could they know how unlikely it is that they'll bust that streak when they can't even connect to the internet.

Minnesota could easily deliver the upset here. But only if they do it quickly. There's a law of diminishing returns with Bruce Boudreau-coached teams that pretty much guarantees they'll choke if a series goes seven games. 

Wild in 6.

Eric Thompson

About the Author: Eric Thompson

It's 2019 and Eric Thompson still gets paid to write about news. What a world we live in!
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