- The Penguins (-195) are heavy favorites to win their best-of-five Qualifying Round series against the Habs (+175)
- The physical Blue Jackets (+140) could give a soft Maple Leafs (-160) team some problems
- Artemi Panarin will look to continue his impressive debut year on Broadway by scoring an upset over the Hurricanes (-140)
If you believe the winner of this year’s Stanley Cup should have an asterisk beside its name, you might just deserve a cross-check to the teeth from any of the players competing in the NHL’s best-of-five Qualifying Round.
To sip from Lord Stanley, these warriors will have to win 19 games (up from the usual 16) against five different clubs (rather than four).
While the actual start date and location of the hub cities are still largely up in the air, let’s break down the odds on all four Eastern Conference Qualifying Round series.
NHL EASTERN CONFERENCE QUALIFYING ROUND SERIES ODDS
|New York Rangers||+120|
|New York Islanders||-115|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||+140|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||-160|
PENGUINS ARE HEAVY FAVORITES
Pittsburgh’s odds to make the postseason were at 96 percent at the time of the shutdown, but here they competing in the play-in-round against the lowly Canadiens, a team that sat ten points back of a playoff spot.
You could say the Penguins (-195) are getting screwed, but at least the time off gave Jake Guentzel a chance to recover from what should have been season-ending shoulder surgery. With the young sniper back in the fold, the Pens will be fully healthy after enduring miserable injury luck all season, including a Sidney Crosby sports-hernia surgery that feels like it happened sometime in 2015 at this point.
On this date in 2007:
The Penguins’ Sidney Crosby wins the Hart Trophy at 19 years old, becoming the NHL's youngest MVP since Wayne Gretzky.
That season Crosby led the NHL with 120 points, scoring 36 goals and recording 84 assists. pic.twitter.com/elpx1SF9Fi
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 14, 2020
If Carey Price gets hot and wins this series for Montreal (+175), everyone will blame the layoff even though the result would be nowhere near as absurd as the Jackets sweep of the Lightning last season.
Still, don’t count on that happening. The one-two punch of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who enjoyed a big bounceback year with 74 points in 55 games, will be more than enough to dispatch of the low-scoring Habs. Pittsburgh in 3.
BLUE JACKETS WILL UPSET THE LEAFS
While Leafs fans should be glad to have any opponent other than Boston at this point, John Tortorella’s tight-checking Blue Jackets (+140) will be a tough out.
After losing Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene in free agency, Columbus lost All-Star defenseman Seth Jones, top goal scorer Oliver Bjorkstrand and forward Cam Atkinson to ankle injuries during the season. Still, they somehow remained in the playoff mix.
“…The way he skates, the way he sees the ice, the way he creates space for himself and that goes into his skating is amazing.”
Patrick Marleau only played with Mitch Marner for a short time but still holds him in high regard as an elite talent.https://t.co/n6GcDSRLQ7
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 12, 2020
Now healthy, the league’s fourth-best defensive club will try to lock down the NHL’s third-best offense. If the Jackets can quickly ratchet up the physicality after a long layoff, they’ll have an excellent opportunity to upset a tissue-soft Toronto team that’s looking to win its first playoff series in more than 16 years.
Containing Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner won’t be easy, but I like CBJ in 5. For similar reasons, expect Barry Trotz’s defensive-minded Islanders (-115) to prevail over a Panthers (-105) team they went 3-0 against in the regular season. Islanders in 4.
Finally, let’s go with the upstart Rangers (+120) to upset the Hurricanes (-140) in a turn-back-the-clock series for King Henrik Lundqvist. New York in 5.