It was a historic First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the first time in NHL history, every team that won its division in 2019 was knocked out in the very first round. Four Wild Card teams qualified for the Playoffs, and all four advanced, combining to go (16-6). The only teams that entered the postseason as betting favorites that ended up winning their series were the San Jose Sharks (def. Vegas in 7 games) and the Boston Bruins (def. Toronto in 7 games), and the Sharks and Golden Knights were listed as both being in the -105 to -110 range for much of the time leading up to that series.
As Round 2 begins, we’ll be doing series-by-series previews. This will be a two-part preview, starting with the teams opening up Round 2 Thursday night.
In the Eastern Conference, the Columbus Blue Jackets are well-rested after their First Round sweep of the President’s Trophy winners, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Jackets’ trade deadline moves have already paid off, as Matt Duchene leads the team with three goals and seven total points so far. The same goes for the non-moves, as there had been a discussion about Columbus trading Unrestricted Free Agents to-be Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. Panarin tallied five points in Round 1, while Bobrovsky backstopped the Blue Jackets, limiting the Lightning to just eight goals across four games. The series win for Columbus was the first in the franchise’s nearly-20-year history.
Their Round 2 opponents, meanwhile, get no rest, having only just won their Round 1 series on Tuesday. The Boston Bruins overcame a 3-2 deficit in their series with the Toronto Maple Leafs, winning Game 6 in Toronto before routing the Leafs in Game 7 back in Boston. The Bruins are now making a habit of raking the Leafs in Round 1, having done so in back-to-back years. The B’s have a dangerous team, one that can produce offensively, protect defensively, and get into the heads of their opponents like few others can. You only have to look to Brad Marchand for proof of at least two of those qualities. They are a veteran team with strong leadership, and provide another test for the upstart Jackets.
The betting odds favor Boston, as experience trumps momentum. And it’s actually the Money Line that makes my pick easy. At -160, I’m not willing to bet that the Bruins can accomplish what Tampa Bay could not. At +140, the Blue Jackets are not nearly as big of underdogs as they were in Round 1, but you could argue that Columbus at plus-anything gives them value.
Betting against the Jackets has been an easy choice to make up to this point in their history: they were a team that had only qualified for the Playoffs four times prior to 2019, winning only five Playoff games and never winning a series. They were perennial bottom-feeders, finishing in the bottom three spots of their Conference 9 times in their first 11 seasons (and 10 times overall). But now, they’ve broken through. Much like when Washington finally beat Pittsburgh in last year’s Conference Semifinals, Columbus winning a Playoff series takes the monkey off their backs, and now the Jackets can be judged based strictly on their roster and recent performance. I’m taking Columbus to continue this run into the Conference Finals, and happy to do it with them as betting underdogs.
The Western Conference Semifinals begin Thursday night, as well, with the Wild Card-winning Dallas Stars taking on the St. Louis Blues. Dallas needed six games to eliminate the much-favored Nashville Predators, delivering the final blow in overtime of Game 6. The Stars’ offensive firepower comes from their stars. The top line in Dallas of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov stole the show in Round 1, combining for 7 goals and a whopping 18 points (essentially averaging 1 goal and 2 assists per game). In net, Ben Bishop had himself a big series. The 6’7” netminder posted some of the best numbers of his entire career in 2018-19, keeping his Goals Against Average under 2.00 for the first time in his career (1.98) and posting a career-high save percentage of .934. He did it over just 46 games played, however. In the Playoffs, he dominated the Predators, never allowing Nashville to score more than three goals in any one game of the series, and allowing just 14 total goals across six games.
Bishop will line up opposite another red-hot goaltender for Round 2: St. Louis’ Jordan Binnington. While Bishop’s amazing performance this season comes at 32 years old, Binnington is just 25. And a rookie. After making his first NHL start on January 7 of this year, Binnington posted an insane (24-5-1) record, with a GAA even better than Bishop’s (1.89) and a strong save percentage, as well (.927). Outside of a rough performance in Game 3 where he allowed six goals, the Winnipeg Jets only totaled 10 goals in the other five games of the series. The Blues have a strong team in front of him, as well. Alex Pietrangelo was the only Blues player to average a point a game in Round 1, finishing the series with six assists. Jaden Schwartz’s four goals led the way for the Blues, and four other players posted a pair of goals apiece. Included in that group is the duo of Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko, who led the Blues in scoring during the Regular Season, O’Reilly with 77 points (28 goals, 49 assists) and Tarasenko with 68 points (33 goals, 35 assists).
While the Blues have the home-ice advantage for Round 2, Dallas won the regular season series between the teams pretty handily, winning three out of the four meetings. Binnington started in goal for three of those games, going (1-2-0). The Money Line odds favor St. Louis, with similar numbers to the Columbus/Boston series.
Each of these teams has a hot goaltender. Each of these teams has a strong top line. So, for me, this pick comes down to depth. When it comes to depth, I think St. Louis is the better team. I do think the Blues take this series, though I wouldn’t try to talk you out of placing a small wager on the Stars because of their odds. Bishop has been lights-out, and the Dallas top line is dangerous when they get going (and they are currently going). That said, ultimately, I think that St. Louis is the team that will be moving on to the Conference Finals.
In Part 2 of this preview, we’ll take a closer look at the remaining series: San Jose vs Colorado, and New York vs Carolina.
Drew has been covering sports professionally since 2007, covering sports of all kinds in the ACC, SEC, Big 12 and Conference USA. In addition to covering college sports, he also spent two seasons working with the NHL's Florida Panthers as part of their TV broadcast team, as well as reporting and anchoring for AT&T SportsNet and FOX Sports affiliates, CBS Sports Network and ESPNU. Drew has also ...
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