One of the most exciting tournaments in professional sports gets underway Wednesday as the Stanley Cup playoffs open with eight first-round matchups. Each series should produce plenty of thrilling moments - not to mention ample betting opportunities for those looking to add a little profit to their hockey-watching enjoyment.
Here are the key betting notes for each of this year's 16 playoff participants:
Tampa Bay Lightning
Everyone knows that officials tend to swallow their whistles in the postseason, making for tighter, lower-scoring games that lead oddsmakers to roll primarily with 5s and 5.5s on the totals side. But bettors should consider the Over when betting on the Lightning, who enter the playoffs having scored a league-best 196 goals at 5-on-5; in fact, only the Toronto Maple Leafs finished within 10 goals of the Lightning, who will finish with the most 5-on-5 goals by any team since the 2009-10 Washington Capitals.
It takes guts to bet on a team to win despite allowing its opponent to score first - that's why you'll usually get odds ranging from +170 to +190 on those plays. But the Bruins represent the strongest option to come through on that wager, entering the playoffs with a league-high 21 victories when surrendering the opening goal of the game. In fact, Boston's 21-17-6 record in games in which it allows the first goal is good for a .477 winning percentage that leads the NHL.
The Capitals are a healthy +1,000 underdog to win the Stanley Cup title, but they'll need to work on how they perform offensively when tied or ahead. Washington ranks among the worst teams in the league in net shot attempts at 5-on-5 in those two key areas, sitting at -182 attempts when tied and a positively dreadful -264 when playing with the lead. Consider live bets on the Capitals' opponent and take advantage of how shaky Washington has been in situations when not playing from behind.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs are one of the top Eastern Conference contenders, thanks in large part to their success rate in close games. The Leafs have reeled off 25 one-goal victories this season, tied with the New Jersey Devils for the most in the league. Toronto has also won nearly 66 percent of all one-goal games in which it has been involved, second only to the Tampa Bay Lightning. If you like the Leafs to win, don't hesitate to take a shot on them prevailing by exactly one goal.
The Penguins continue to boast one of the most potent offenses in the NHL, and have been particularly adept at piling up the goals late in the game - making them the perfect play for the "last goal of the game" prop. Pittsburgh is the only team in the league to have scored more than 100 goals in the third period of games this season at 101 - and added another 12 in overtime - three more than the next-closest team. No team closes like the Pens - and that could lead them right to a Stanley Cup three-peat.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets are +2,500 to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history - but they won't even get out of the first round if they can't figure out how to make headway with the man advantage. Columbus has scored just 39 power-play goals while surrendering seven shorthanded tallies; that +32 differential on the PP is third-worst in the league, ahead of only the lottery-bound Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes. Bettors should give this major consideration when mulling over Blue Jackets totals wagers.
New Jersey Devils
That the Devils have won nearly 60 percent of their one-goal games is impressive - especially when you consider that they've been terrible in the faceoff circle. The Devils have won just 47 percent of their draws on the season, and join the Avalanche as the only teams in the league to draw less than 48 percent in all three zones on the ice. They've also lost more than 200 more faceoffs than they've won in tied or one-goal games. Ignore that one-goal win trend and avoid live-betting the Devils in close games.
It took until the second-last day of the regular season for the Flyers to secure a playoff spot, but they could be a dangerous out. The Flyers have been the most prolific team in the league when it comes to winning two-goal games, going 13-5 in such situations - good for a 72.2-percent win rate. With nearly a third of their total victories coming by two goals - in an era where one-goal victories are all the rage - the Flyers might just be a sneaky good moneyline play either as the favorite or as the underdog.
You won't find many weaknesses on the Presidents' Trophy-winning roster, which goes into the playoffs as a +400 favourite to hoist the Stanley Cup this June. But Nashville would do well to stay out of the penalty box; its 482 minutes, 49 seconds of shorthanded play is easily the most in the league, and its -42:53 PP/PK differential is better than only six other teams. That trend, combined with Nashville boasting a top-six penalty kill, suggests that the Under might be a prudent play until the Preds behave themselves.
The Jets have rewarded live bettors handsomely in more than one way this season. They've been the most successful team in the league at rallying from a first-period deficit, having won eight of 18 games in which they trailed after 20 minutes (44.4 percent). And when they lead after two periods, you might as well turn off the television - Winnipeg is a league-leading 42-1-1 when going into the third period with an edge. If the Jets trail after one period, or lead after two, you should leap on the live bet.
Vegas Golden Knights
Teams that score first are expected to win - in fact, oddsmakers generally offer odds between -200 and -300 on that prop, meaning you'll have to place a nice-sized wager to make a tidy profit. But the expansion Vegas Golden Knights - in addition to creating plenty of excitement on the Strip - have been a spectacularly strong play in this regard, winning nearly 83 percent of the games in which they've scored first; only the Lightning have been more successful. Lean on Vegas to prevail when opening the scoring.
San Jose Sharks
The middle period can feel like a bit of a drag sometimes - but the Sharks have made it a great time for bettors to hop on board. San Jose ranks ninth in the NHL with 89 second-period goals while allowing the fifth-fewest goals against in that frame (71). The Sharks also boast a plus-45-minute PP/PK differential for the month. The Sharks are +2,200 longshots to win the Stanley Cup, but they should win you a few second period props along the way - so bet confidently.
Given the nature of NHL games, the third period is almost always the most prolific - and oddsmakers build that fact into their highest-scoring period odds, with the final 20 minutes carrying slightly lower odds than the other two. If you're looking for an edge here, look no further than the Minnesota Wild, who have scored the fourth-most third-period goals (94) while allowing the second-most (96). No team produces more late-game fireworks than the Wild - so lock in their third periods as the highest-scoring of the game.
The Ducks have perennially been among the NHL's biggest problem children - and this year is no different, which should give bettors pause when considering both results and totals. Anaheim was handed an average of 3.59 minor penalties per 60 minutes during the regular season, fourth-most in the league. Compounding things is the fact that the Ducks drew just 2.69 minors per 60 minutes, giving them the worst differential in the NHL. Look for that extra shorthanded time to limit Anaheim's live betting appeal.
Los Angeles Kings
Slow starts can sink a team - and the Los Angeles Kings know that better than anyone. The Kings have a reputation for emerging as legitimate Stanley Cup threats despite looking somewhat non-threatening during the regular season - but to do so in 2018, they'll need to get better in the first period. Los Angeles has just 52 first-period goals - third-fewest in the NHL - while boasting a -27 goal differential for the period. If you're looking for a solid choice for your first-period winner prop, look elsewhere.
A Saturday win over the St. Louis Blues vaulted the Avalanche into the final post-season spot in the Western Conference - but their playoff run won't last long if they can't improve in the faceoff dot. Colorado posted the worst faceoff success rate in the NHL this season at 44.2 percent - including a dreadful 43.6-percent mark in its own zone. That played a role in the Avalanche winning just 42.3 percent of their one-goal games - so steer clear of live-betting Colorado when the game is tied.