The 16 Stanley Cup contenders are hunkered down in film rooms trying to dissect their opponent’s weaknesses, but hockey bettors need a battle plan if they hope to survive the grueling postseason too.
Covers.com outlines the best systems and strategies to keep your bankroll growing throughout the NHL playoffs.
Blind betting the Round 1 road dogs
This may be the easiest way to make a buck throughout the entire NHL playoffs.
All you’ve got to do is bet every road underdog in the opening tilt of each Round 1 series. Stop betting the dogs that win Game 1, but bet the same amount in Game 2 on the ones that lose.
With these road teams usually paying plus money all you need is a split to earn a profit. However, it’s important to note that this system is most effective in the opening round when the seeds are the furthest apart and the road dogs are paying the most.
“It seems that more than any other sport we see early round upsets in the NHL playoffs, but oddsmakers still tend to discredit the lower seeds,” says Covers Expert Pat Miller. “In the latter rounds I'm not sure you get as much value as the books start to get a better handle on teams' playoff potential.”
This strategy was particularly profitable last year when only the Devils-Rangers and Sabres-Flyers first-round series didn’t see a split in the first two games. With the current playoff field being so tight, bettors can probably make some easy money again with the system. However, a little handicapping can help you weed out the worst road dogs and further increase your profit margin.
“Although this system does have some merit I still don't believe it is something that can be done blindly,” warns Covers Expert Scott Rickenbach. “Each game must be evaluated independently for goaltending edges, injury issues, special teams issues and how the teams matchup, etc.”
Wait for the series price to swing
The idea here is to get the best possible series price on the favored team. Just like the Round 1 road dog system, this strategy also relies on a split in the first two games of a given series. The difference is that you jump in right after the road underdog gets a win.
Let’s say you want to back the Detroit Red Wings in a series bet over the Calgary Flames, but don’t like the idea of eating all that chalk. Well, just wait until the Flames steal a victory in Hockeytown (we’ve already discussed the high instances of road underdogs splitting the first two games) because that will see the Wings’ series price sink like a stone.
“Jumping on the favorite after it falls behind is generally a good idea value wise,” says Miller. “However it's probably not a good idea to go in too heavy.”
That's because you’ll need the higher seed to rebound from the split and take the series, which is something that didn’t occur at all in the Western Conference last year. After splitting or losing both home games to the lowers seeds, all four home teams went on to be eliminated in the opening round.
Bettors who are willing to do a little more legwork can take a more conservative approach to finding value with the higher-seeded clubs that lose in their own buildings.
“If a favorite loses on home ice to open the series and I still think they're going to come back and win it, than I am expecting them to win four out of six the rest of the way,” explains Rickenbach. “With road games included there is a lot of money to be made, especially with solid line value often found on road teams in the playoffs.”
Be particular with your puckline picks
The payouts offered on puckline favorites rise dramatically in the NHL playoffs and there’s a very good reason for it.
Teams tighten up defensively at this time of year and will often go into a shell to protect a one-goal lead. Multi-goal victories are very hard to come by, so if you’re going to lay the points you’d better be sure you’re backing a team that has the total package.
“The key to a solid puckline favorite is a strong offense as well as a solid netminder,” says Rickenbach.
“For instance, the New Jersey Devils have a great goaltender in Martin Brodeur, but their offense is not the best because they often play a style that emphasizes defense. However, a team like Ottawa that scores a lot could get a better look as a puckline favorite if they're getting good goaltending.”
Backing puckline underdogs in the playoffs may be even riskier than betting faves. Taking the points means eating a ton of chalk and a team trailing by a single goal will always give its opponent the opportunity to extend the lead in the dying stages of the game.
“Anytime you've got a one-goal game or even a two-goal with a minute to go you know the other team is pulling its goalie,” Rickenbach says. “The dog may rally for a goal, but the favorite could easily get an empty netter. These are tough spots when you're on a puckline play.”
Don’t be close-minded in close-out games
Whenever a series comes down to the wire and one team is one the verge of elimination, bettors always assume the home team holds a huge advantage and books work that bias into their lines.
However, it doesn’t always play out that way when it’s the home team that’s on the brink of an early summer. Playing in front of your fans while fighting for you life only adds more pressure and can give the visiting team value.
“I think one of the best value spots in the playoffs is with the underdog in Game 7,” says Miller. “Everyone jumps all over the favorite and they end up crumbling under the pressure of playing at home.”
Flames bettors got a nasty taste of this trend last year in Game 7 of their conference quarterfinals series with the Anaheim Ducks. They were huge -175 favorites, but were whacked 3-0 in what was their most lopsided loss of the series.
Momentum is where the money is
Perhaps the best thing you can do for your bankroll in the NHL playoffs is to keep your eye out for that critical turning point that essentially decides a series.
It seems that in every best-of-seven there is always a bad bounce, a key injury, or a blown opportunity that galvanizes one team’s confidence and sends the other reeling back on its heels.
If you can identify these turning points, you’ll know where to find value in the remainder of the series.
“Often we've seen momentum shift in a series and a team will win out the rest of the way,” says Rickenbach. “Momentum is a real key in any series. It affects the psyche and the psychological aspects of hockey should never be overlooked.”
Bettors saw plenty examples of this in 2006, but most notable is that of the Montreal Canadiens in Round 1.
They were cruising through their series with the Carolina Hurricanes when Saku Koivu suffered an eye injury in Game 3. The Habs had won the first two tilts on the road, but didn’t manage another victory after their captain went down.
“Hockey is such a game of emotion,” says Millers. “These things can make or break a team in the postseason.”