Heading into Monday, we were already guaranteed a pair of Game 7s for the NHL’s First Round in what has already been a historic postseason. The Atlantic Division Champion (and President’s Trophy winning) Tampa Bay Lightning were swept in Round 1. The Pacific Division Champion Calgary Flames were eliminated in five games. On Monday night, the Central Division Champion Nashville Predators lost Game 6 in overtime to the Dallas Stars, with John Klingberg’s goal closing out the series. There are now 11 examples in NHL history where at least three Division Champions were eliminated in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (keep in mind that the NHL had six divisions from 1998-99 through 2012-13), but there has never been a postseason in NHL history where every Division winner has lost in Round 1.
The Metropolitan Division Champion Washington Capitals had a chance to advance on Monday night, but the Carolina Hurricanes overcame an early 2-1 deficit to beat the Caps and even the series at 3-3. That Canes win gives us our third Game 7 of the First Round and – if Carolina wins Wednesday – the Wild Card teams will go a perfect 4-for-4 in Round 1 and make NHL history in the process. As it stands, all four division winners will face an elimination game in Round 1, which itself is quite impressive.
Those other three Division winners went a combined (0-3) in their elimination games in the First Round. Tampa was swept, Calgary lost four straight after winning Game 1, and Nashville dropped back-to-back games to end their series (and season) in six games. The Washington Capitals were the first Division winner with a chance to eliminate their First Round opponent, but, as mentioned, fell 5-2 on Monday night. This series provides further proof as to just how even the NHL’s Playoff teams are in 2019. Seeding aside, the Capitals finished just five points ahead of the Hurricanes in the final Regular Season standings. Over the final 27 games of the season, Washington and Carolina each won exactly 18 games. In their series to-date, each team has scored exactly 17 goals, and each team has won a single game by exactly a single goal (the other four games have all ended in multi-goal decisions). Even the single-goal victories mirrored each other. After picking up a 4-2 win at home in Game 1, Washington beat Carolina 4-3 in Overtime in Game 2. After picking up a 5-0 win at home in Game 3, Carolina beat Washington 2-1 in Game 4.
In this series, the home team is a perfect (6-0). Washington will get the home-ice advantage for Game 7, and that could play a significant role in the outcome of the game and the series. Between the Regular Season and Playoffs, Washington has outscored Carolina 21-7 in games played in Washington, D.C., winning all five meetings.
The oddsmakers have Washington as the predictable favorites, coming in at -152 on the Money Line. Carolina’s Money Line has them at +137. The Spread for the game is the typical 1½ given to most NHL contests, with the Capitals at -1½, +190 and the Hurricanes at +1½, -220.
While I advised steering clear of the Spread for Tuesday’s games, there were two main reasons behind it. Firstly, Game 7s can go any number of ways, which makes it tough to suggest a team is going to win by a certain margin (especially in hockey, where an empty-net goal in the closing moments can make the difference between a team covering the spread and coming up short). The other reason is that the odds given on Money Line wagers for the teams I picked were favorable. At the time of recording/writing, Toronto was a betting underdog (+122 at the time) and Vegas and San Jose came in at matching odds (-105 each at the time).
For this matchup, I’m picking Washington to win. The home-ice advantage plays a big factor in my decision to go with the Caps. And because the betting odds on a straight bet for Washington to win don’t have the best payout (-152), I’m taking a calculated risk and going for the Spread bet (-1½, +190). Washington’s defense gives up fewer goals at home (by about ¾ of a goal per game), and Carolina scores less on the road (by about ⅓ of a goal per game). In this series, when the location has shifted (Games 1, 3, 5, 6), the home team has won by at least two goals every time (including by 5+ goals twice).
Plus, Game 7s, to me, are always going to involve some risk. The teams must be at least somewhat competitive with one another for a series to end up in a winner-takes-all game. Since I believe Washington will win the game, and since they are the favorite, taking them with the Spread allows for a much smaller wager (in this case, about $53 vs $152) to return the same payout ($100). I’m looking at it as being offered nearly 3-to-1 odds that, if Washington wins, they’ll score an empty-netter (or won’t need one) and cover the Spread. That’s a bet I’d take.
If you’re not confident that the Capitals will cover and want to hedge your bet, you can bet ⅔ of your total wager on a straight bet of Washington to win. Then, take the remaining ⅓ and bet on Washington -1½. This way, if Washington wins by 1, you’ll essentially break even. But, if Washington covers, you’ll get paid at 2-to-3 on your straight bet and 3-to-1 on your Spread wager.
If you plan to bet $60 on Washington, you can bet $40 as a straight bet (pays $26.32) and $20 on them to cover the Spread (pays $38). If the Capitals win by one, you’ll end up with $66.32 (a small win). If the Capitals win by 2+, you’ll end up with $124.32 (more than doubling your money).
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