The Stanley Cup playoffs are one day away, and oddsmakers favor the Washington Capitals to come out of the Eastern Conference to face and defeat the defending Chicago Blackhawks in the finals.
But the NHL playoffs are often unpredictable, and upsets do occur, something the Capitals are far too familiar with. Washington and league-leading scorer Alex Ovechkin have overpowered all comers for 120 points during the regular season, the second straight year the Capitals have registered a triple-digit point total, but they did suffer six first and second-round losses between 2008 and 2014.
Still, oddsmakers favor the Capitals to win it all even though Chicago’s taken three of the last six cups. The Capitals stand as +350 favorites to win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history, while the Blackhawks are back at +650, the Dallas Stars sit at +700, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are at +750, according to SportsBook.ag.
The Capitals also stand out as the biggest first-round favorite as they prepare to face the Philadelphia Flyers, but many of the seven-game series are tight.
Here’s the full odds for each first-round series via Sportsbook.ag and predictions as the playoffs begin Wednesday night.
New York Islanders (+130) vs. Florida Panthers (-150)
The Islanders lost their regular season finale to Philadelphia, and they were pushed back to the top wild-card spot for a date with the Panthers rather than red-hot Pittsburgh. Florida took the season-series 2-1 and owned the league’s No. 4 defense behind keepers Al Montoya and Roberto Luongo.
Prediction: Florida in 6
Detroit Red Wings (+130) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (-150)
These two squads split their season-series 2-2, but the defending East champion Tampa Bay has a decisive edge in keepers Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Bishop was tops in the NHL with a 2.06 goals against average and Detroit was No. 23 in goals scored.
Prediction: Tampa Bay in 5
Philadelphia Flyers (+250) vs. Washington Capitals (-300)
Despite Washington’s meltdowns in the postseason for the better part of the last decade, and a 2-2 season-series with Philadelphia, Ovechkin and center Evgeny Kuznetsov have been too strong (148 points between them) and keeper Braden Holtby should out-duel Philadelphia’s Steve Mason.
Prediction: Washington in 4
New York Rangers (+130) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (-160)
Since March 11 the Penguins have gone 14-2 and are arguably the biggest threat to Washington. And the Rangers were Pittsburgh’s victim three times during that torrid run. The series may come down to the matchup between Pittsburgh center and leading scorer Sidney Crosby and Rangers keeper Henrik Lundqvist, but the Penguins are too hot even for Lundqvist.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in 6
Chicago Blackhawks (Even) vs. St. Louis Blues (-120)
The Blues get the defending champs in the first round, and even though these two squads went 2-2 in the regular season, St. Louis has the decided advantage with the league’s No. 4 defense and No. 2 penalty kill. Blues keeper Brian Elliott was also just behind Bishop with a 2.07 GAA and tops in the league with a .930 save percentage, a few ticks higher than Chicago’s Corey Crawford at .924.
Prediction: St. Louis in 7
Minnesota Wild (+195) vs. Dallas Stars (-240)
The Stars are the second-biggest favorite in the first round thanks to left wing Jamie Benn’s 89 points and 41 goals, both top three in the league, and their top-ranked offense. Dallas also went 3-1 in the season-series with Minnesota, but they did require overtime for two of those games. Still the Wild does have more flexibility in net, with Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen each recording 25 wins compared to Dallas’ Devan Dubynk’s 32.
Prediction: Dallas in 6
San Jose Sharks (+140) vs. Los Angeles Kings (-160)
Another split season series, but the Kings are favored due to star goalie Jonathan Quick holding down the league’s No. 3 defense. Still, San Jose’s Martin Jones posted a 2.27 GAA and .918 save percentage in route to 37 wins and he does have Joe Thornton and the NHL’s No. 4 offense helping him out.
Prediction: Los Angeles in 7
Nashville Predators (+157) vs. Anaheim Ducks (-180)
The Ducks should arguably be favored more given their No. 1 GAA and No. 1 penalty kill, though they were No. 17 in goals scored during the regular season and Nashville won two of their three meetings this season with keeper Pekka Rinne allowing just three goals in the victories. But Ducks keepers John Gibson and Frederik Andersen are formidable and give Anaheim the decisive advantage.
Prediction: Anaheim in 5