While the NBA playoffs have been dominated by the Warriors and Cavaliers, the NHL playoffs have produced some unlikely contenders for the Stanley Cup.
The Predators were the worst wild-card team to make the postseason but arguably have been the best in the playoffs. Their postseason run includes upsetting the Blackhawks, Blues and Ducks en route to the Western Conference title.
Nashville, which opened the season at 20-1 odds to win it all, will open the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final on Monday against the winner of Thursday’s Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Penguins and Senators, who opened as 85-1 long shots to win the Cup.
“Ottawa’s probably the biggest surprise team left,” Sunset Station sports book director Chuck Esposito said. “Even though Nashville’s a wild-card team, they were still a good team with a good goalie. The way they dismantled Chicago, I thought (the Predators) could be scary. But I don’t think anybody thought Ottawa could be three periods away from hosting Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals.”
The Senators were blown out 7-0 in Pittsburgh in Game 5 before staving off elimination in Tuesday’s 2-1 win at home.
The defending champion Penguins opened as minus-200 favorites in Game 7. Ottawa is a plus-175 underdog, and the total is 5.
“It’s not going to surprise me to see this (minus-200) number creep up, because Pittsburgh’s the defending champs, they’re at home and the last time Ottawa played in Pittsburgh, the Penguins put a touchdown on the board against them,” Esposito said. “But I don’t think the Senators will make it easy. They have a legitimate shot.”
Ottawa is 0-5 in its Game 7 history, with a minus-9 goal differential, and Pittsburgh is 9-7 — but 3-7 at home. The Penguins beat the Lightning 2-1 at home in Game 7 of last season’s conference finals and blanked the Capitals 2-0 on the road earlier this postseason.
Handicapper Alex Smith (AxSmithSports.com) expects Pittsburgh to prevail, but prefers to play Ottawa on the puck line (plus-1½ goals, minus-185) and under 5 (plus-105).
“The price would suggest the underdog. I would never lay 2-to-1 on a hockey game. If I’m going to lay a price higher than 150, I’ll go with Ottawa getting 1½ goals than Pittsburgh to win straight up,” he said. “They’ve been close games, except for Game 5. This game, more than likely, is going to overtime. It’s going to be a tightly contested game.
“The under looks good. Four of the first six games went under in the series.”
Eight of the last 12 Game 7s have gone under, including the past three. Only two of the past 12 have featured more than five goals.
Home teams are 98-70 (58.3 percent) all time in Game 7s but are on a 19-25 slide.
South Point sports book director Chris Andrews, a Pittsburgh native, said the hockey betting handle has increased this postseason but still pales in comparison to the NBA.
“I don’t know if the (Vegas Golden) Knights coming here have anything to do with it, but it’s certainly been strong,” he said. “We’re very happy with the handle on the NHL.”
Smith is siding with the Predators on Monday in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, no matter who advances from the East.
“Nashville’s the best team right now,” he said. “They have a ton of energy and momentum. That city’s buzzing about hockey, and it’s giving them more life. They’ve got everything on their side. They’ve got a hot goaltender in Pekka Rinne, and all four lines are contributing offensively.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-266-6080. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.