Best bets for the opening round of the postseason

The 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway on Monday with four games on the docket. It’s always the most exciting time of the year for the sport, as the NHL postseason traditionally offers a tremendous amount of theater over the season’s final two months.

The Boston Bruins enter the postseason as the very clear favorite after racking up an NHL record 135 points during the regular season. While the Bruins are a convincing favorite in their opening round series against the Florida Panthers, there are plenty of matchups that figure to be profitable from a betting standpoint.

Here are three NHL picks for the first round that are worth wagering on.

Stars (-150) to win series against Wild
The Stars are one of my favorite teams entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I honestly almost put them in the Stanley Cup Final in my postseason predictions. While I like the Oilers to reach the Stanley Cup Final, the Stars look like an exceptional bet to make a deep playoff run.

They’re one of the more dangerous offensive units that the NHL has to offer. Throughout the regular season, the Stars ranked seventh in scoring with 3.41 goals-per-game. The reason for that is the absurd amount of depth that this team possesses up and down their roster. Jason Robertson has become one of the league’s top goal scorers and the trade deadline addition of Max Domi really has made Dallas even stronger up the middle. Calder Trophy candidate Wyatt Johnston has also burst onto the scene with a 24-goal regular season while Radek Faksa also is no slouch as the team’s fourth-line center.

Meanwhile, the Wild did have a great season and were even in the running with the Avalanche and Stars late in the year for the Central Division crown. However, I just don’t see the Wild having near the amount depth of forward group that the Stars do. Kirill Kaprizov put together an impressive 75-point season and continues to be one of the top wingers around. Young winger Matt Boldy also played extremely well down the stretch with three goals and three assists over his final six regular season games. However, I just don’t think the Wild will have enough firepower to take down the Stars.

Maple Leafs -1.5 games (+118) against Lightning
Yes, I know what many of you are going to say. And yes, the Maple Leafs losing in the opening round in six consecutive postseasons/not winning a playoff series since 2004 is going to continue to be a storyline until they break through.

I believe that time is now.

This is the most talented Toronto team that we’ve seen in recent years. The Maple Leafs added veteran forward Ryan O’Reilly to be the team’s second-line center at the trade deadline and also added defensemen Jake McCabe and Luke Schenn into the fold. Neither of those latter two are particularly flashy options on the blue line, but give the defensive unit some incredible depth. I’m expecting Mitch Marner to continue on his career season, while Auston Matthews will put the puck in the net as he always does.

On the other hand, I’ll admit it is really hard to bet against the Lightning. But I think all the wear-and-tear may finally catch up to them. It’s a lot to play that many additional games in three consecutive seasons like Tampa has. This also isn’t the same group that fell to the Avalanche in last year’s Stanley Cup Final. Ondrej Palat is no longer around and I think his presence will be missed on the second and third line during the postseason. Yes, the Lightning still have a world class goaltender in Andrei Vasilevskiy, but I simply think that the Maple Leafs offense is too talented not to win this series convincingly.

Avalanche to beat Kraken in 5 games (+230)
Listen, the Kraken are a phenomenal story. And unfortunately for them, their reward is getting to face the defending Stanley Cup champion Avalanche.

We know the Avs no longer have center Nazem Kadri, and his presence in the middle of the ice has certainly been missed. In addition, Colorado had a big change in net since winning the Cup last year, as they weren’t willing to pay up to keep goalie Darcy Kuemper. However, Alexandar Georgiev in his first season with the Avalanche has been perhaps better than Kuemper was a season ago. While not having captain Gabriel Landeskog for the entire postseason is a huge disadvantage, this is still an extremely talented roster featuring the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar.

Especially with those three, the talent gap between the Avalanche and Kraken is very evident. Seattle obviously had a great season, as they tallied 100 points and grabbed the top Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Jared McCann had a career year in which he scored 40 goals and Matty Beniers is a top candidate to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. Still, the talent gap is just too vast. On top of that, the Kraken don’t exactly have a stable presence in net with Philipp Grubauer and Martin Jones struggling throughout the regular season. The Avalanche could easily run away with this series. I do expect the Kraken to steal a game at home, but that’s about it.

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