This article is part of our NHL Picks series.
Following a modified 56-game schedule that exclusively featured inter-division matchups, the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs are about to bring us two more rounds of divisional clashes. RotoWire will bring you a breakdown of each division ahead of the start of postseason play. AJ Scholz looks at the two semifinal series and updated Stanley Cup odds courtesy of the DraftKings Sportsbook.
Semifinal No. 1
New York Islanders (205) vs Tampa Bay Lightning (-250) - Game 1 Sunday, 3 PM ET
After a slow start to the postseason, star-center Mathew Barzal appears to have rediscovered his offensive game with three goals and three assists in his last five contests, though he was blanked in the Game 6 clincher over Boston. While it was the second-line that led the way for the Isles in the first round, it's been the third trio that has stepped up of late, as Kyle Palmieri and Jean-Gabriel Pageau combined for six goals and six assists in a half-dozen games versus the Bruins. On the other side of the ice, Tampa continues to be led by its stars Nikita Kucherov (18), Steven Stamkos (13) and Victor Hedman (11). Between the pipes, it figures to continue being Semyon Varlamov, who has replaced Ilya Sorokin in the crease while it's all Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Bolts, who is sporting a .934 save percentage, 2.24 GAA and two shutouts in 11 playoff appearances.
AJ's Pick: At this point, betting against the Isles versus teams that are perceived to be more star-studded may not be a recipe for success considering they've dispatched Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, as well as Boston's 'Perfection Line'. Still, the Bolts have a Vezina Trophy finalist and defending Stanley Cup champion guarding the cage that's been near unbeatable in the playoffs. I'm hesitant to take the Isles to win straight up at +215 (though that's tremendous value) and instead will play the series spread of Islanders +1.5 for near even money at -104.
Semifinal No. 2
Montreal Canadiens (315) vs Vegas Golden Knights (-400) - Game 1 Monday, 9PM ET
After getting past the Maple Leafs in seven games, the Habs shocked the Jets with a four-game sweep in the second round to claim the North Division spot in the semifinals. There are some offensive pieces among Montreal's forward group, including youngsters Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield who have combined with Tyler Toffoli to give the team a solid second line that's combined for 22 points in the playoffs. Having said that, the story for the Canadiens has been and will continue to be Carey Price who leads all netminders in the playoffs with a.935 save percentage and 1.97 GAA. The Knights for their part have seen the offense come in spurts from all over the lineup. Against the Wild in the first round, Vegas was led by Mark Stone (four goals), Alex Tuch (three) and Mattias Janmark (three), while Max Pacioretty – who was limited due to an injury – William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault combined for just three goals. In the second round, the script flipped with Marchessault (five), Karlsson (three) and Pacioretty (three) leading the charge. With the exception of Game 1 versus Colorado, it's been all Marc-Andre Fleury in goal for the Knights and he should continue to get the starting nod down the stretch in his pursuit of a fourth Stanley Cup championship.
AJ's Pick: Looking at those tremendously skewed odds, it's hard not to at least consider taking the Habs, who have knocked off Toronto and Winnipeg to get to this point, two star-studded clubs with solid netminding to back it up. Still, Vegas had the second-best record during the regular season and comes into this matchup having eliminated the Presidents' Trophy winners. Rather than giving up all that juice at -400, I think I'll take a look at the series total games played at under 5.5 for -112 and would even consider going with the exact outcome of the series with the Golden Knights winning 4-1 at a solid +275.
Stanley Cup Odds
Heading into Game 7 versus Minnesota, you could get the Golden Knights at +800 to win the Stanley Cup but after winning that contest and downing the Avalanche in six games, it's Vegas that leads the way among the four remaining teams at +115, near even money. The defending champions Tampa Bay Lightning aren't far behind at +175 while the underdog Isles are +600 and the Canadiens face the longest odds at +900.
AJ's Pick: As the old saying goes, 'Never say never' considering both New York and Montreal have dispatched some quality, star-studded team to get to this point but with the scales tipped into the extreme, it seems almost inevitable we will see a Lightning vs Golden Knights final. I previously mentioned the flexibility Vegas has throughout its roster in terms of point producers and it has former champions in its lineup including The Flower and Alex Pietrangelo but the Bolts are just so even-keeled, play to their strengths and don't have the same up-and-down swings as the Knights. As such, I'll be taking Tampa Bay to lift Lord Stanley's cup at +175.