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.

Golden Knights captain activated off LTIR, will play in Game 1 vs. Jets

The Vegas Golden Knights are getting a huge asset back in their lineup for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. On Monday, the team announced that captain Mark Stone has been activates off of long-term injured reserve and will play in Game 1 of their opening round series against the Winnipeg Jets.

Stone has been out of the lineup since Jan. 12 and underwent back surgery on Jan. 31.


— z – Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) April 17, 2023
Due to the fact that Stone was placed on LTIR earlier this season, the roster move gave Vegas an additional $9.5 million in cap space. That extra cap room allowed the team to add players at the league’s trade deadline in early March.

In 43 games this season, Stone had registered 17 goals and 21 assists before suffering the back injury. It marked the second consecutive campaign in which the Golden Knights captain dealt with a back injury. He missed 26 games a season ago.

Stone will likely skate on Vegas’ second or third-line upon his return to the ice for Tuesday’s Game 1.

Stone was named the Golden Knights’ captain back in January 2021 after originally being acquired by the team in a trade with the Ottawa Senators in 2019.

Stars center’s status uncertain for Game 2 after being knocked out by Wild’s Matt Dumba

Dallas Stars center Joe Pavelski was leveled by Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba during the second period of Monday’s Game 1 and, as a result of the collision, Pavelski ended up leaving the game.

Dumba received a two-minute minor penalty for roughing, but following a lengthy review, he wasn’t given a major penalty for the hit.

Matt Dumba lays a late hit on Joe Pavelski and receives a 2-minute minor penalty for roughing.

— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 18, 2023
Immediately after Pavelski fell to the ice, Stars forward Max Domi went after Dumba and threw a few punches. Domi was given a 10-minute misconduct penalty for his retaliation.

“To be honest, I thought it was a clean hit. I figured (the refs) were going to see the same. Shoulder on shoulder,” Dumba said following the game. “I don’t even know why I got the roughing, probably because I was just in the box already.”

Stars head coach Pete DeBoer said after the game that Pavelski’s head hit the ice when he fell.

“We have the best officials in the world. They called a five, they reviewed it, which is the right thing to do. If they reviewed and decided it wasn’t a bad hit then, you know, I guess it’s not for me to argue with that,” DeBoer said. “They got to look at it at multiple different angles and that was the decision they made, so we’ve got to live with that.”

DeBoer added that he wasn’t feeling confident about Pavelski being available to play in Game 2 on Wednesday night.

Pavelski does have a history of concussions throughout his career. In the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Pavelski, who was then a member of the San Jose Sharks, suffered a very physical hit at the hands of Vegas Golden Knights forward Cody Eakin in Game 7 of an opening-round series.

Eakin was assessed a major penalty on that play, and the NHL later determined that it wasn’t the correct call. The Sharks ended up scoring four times on the major penalty and won 5-4 in overtime.

Zhang Weili and Marlon Vera among top picks to consider this weekend

Two titles are on the line at UFC 292 in Boston on Saturday night. In the night’s main event, Aljamain Sterling defends his bantamweight championship against Sean O’Malley. Meanwhile, Zhang Weili will put her women’s strawweight belt on the line against Amanda Lemos in the co-main event.

Sterling has hinted that the fight with O’Malley is the end of his time at 135 pounds and he’s looking to close out that period of his career with a big title defense.

O’Malley, meanwhile, has built up a cult following with his brash style and flair for the dramatic, walk-off KO. Of his 10 UFC appearances, seven have ended in KO/TKO. One of those includes a no contest due to an eye poke. “Suga” has finished the likes of Raulian Paiva, Thomas Almeida, Eddie Wineland and Jose Alberto Quinonez. He’s coming off the biggest win of his career when he outpointed former titleholder Petr Yan by split decision in October.

In addition to the pair of title fights, there is plenty of action worth watching. The next Irish star on the rise gets his chance in the spotlight in front of a raucous Boston crowd when Ian Machado Garry takes on Neil Magny. Garry, 25, is undefeated at 5-0 so far in his UFC career with three knockouts. He’s coming off a brutal quick finish of Daniel Rodriguez in May and now gets his toughest test to date in the veteran Magny, who is getting the call on short notice after Geoff Neal was forced to withdraw.

With so many intriguing fights on the UFC 292 card, there will be plenty of action at sportsbooks around the country. As always, we are looking at each main card fight to identify the “best bet” for each bout. After a 1-3 result at UFC 291, our record for the year now stands at 21-21.

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Let’s take a look at what we’ve identified as our choices for the best bets on the UFC 292 pay-per-view main card.

Marlon Vera vs. Pedro Munhoz
Marlon Vera to win via decision/technical decision (+100)

This is a tough, fairly evenly-matched bantamweight clash. It certainly is possible for Munhoz to take advantage of Vera’s tendency to get off to slow starts to edge out a win. That depends on Vera not stepping it up in Round 2, however, and he’s slightly more technically sound and does have the better power. While taking the Vera moneyline may be slightly safer, Munhoz is very durable and should be able to last the distance. As long as Vera doesn’t let Munhoz outwork him over the first two rounds, things should go Vera’s way on the final scorecards.

Mario Bautista vs. Da’Mon Blackshear
Mario Bautista moneyline (-210)

While it may not look like it provides a ton of inherent value, this fight is totally slanted in one direction. Blackshear scored a rare twister submission on last week’s card and now is stepping in for former champion Cody Garbrandt. While Blackshear deserves admiration for taking a tough opponent on short notice, this is probably a step too far at this point in his career. Bautista is coming into this fight on a full camp and ready to peak this weekend, while Blackshear is having to reset quickly. Bautista should get the job done, one way or another.

Ian Machado Garry vs. Neil Magny
Total rounds: Under 2.5 (-130)

Garry has been confident to the point of cocky in his young UFC run. While three of Garry’s five UFC bouts have gone over 2.5 rounds, it’s hard to not notice how faded Magny has looked from his peak years in the UFC. He barely escaped his most recent fight with a win, edging Philip Rowe by split decision. Garry is peaking while Magny is fading. Garry can likely find the finish before the final 2:30 against the 2023 version of Magny and the under 2.5 rounds leaves a bit of space if Garry happens to get his chin checked by Magny.

Zhang Weili vs. Amanda Lemos
Zhang Weili via KO/TKO/DQ (+110)

Lemos is a very inconsistent fighter. At times she is very impressive and overwhelms her opponents, other times she gets outworked and struggles on the feet against fighters you’d expect her to clearly defeat. Weili, on the other hand is very consistent. Lemos has been stopped before and Weili has stopped some of the best the division has to offer. Ultimately, just look at how Lemos struggled on the feet against Michelle Waterson and Angela Hill to see why Weili getting the knockout is an enticing bet.

Aljamain Sterling vs. Sean O’Malley
Under 3.5 rounds (-150)

Sterling’s bantamweight title defense against O’Malley feels like the kind of fight that will become clear very shortly after the opening bell. Either Sterling is going to use striking to find an opening and put O’Malley on the canvas with a takedown, or O’Malley is going to blast Sterling in the stand-up and show he can stay standing. Either way, once one man begins imposing his will, this fight likely ends quickly. O’Malley hasn’t consistently stopped opponents, but Sterling’s desperation if he can’t get takedowns will open him up more. And, if Sterling can put O’Malley down with any regularity, he’s likely to either score a submission or use ground and pound to end the fight.

Nick Kerr, Steve Kerr’s son, to take over as Warriors’ G League head coach

Steve Kerr’s son is following in his father’s footsteps. Nick Kerr, the son of the Golden State Warriors championship-winning coach, is set to become the head coach of the G League’s Santa Cruz Warriors, the franchise announced Wednesday. Nick Kerr, a former University of California guard, will get a chance to kick off his head coaching career in the 2023-24 season.

Steve Kerr ended his playing career with the San Antonio Spurs and got a hands-on education as part of Gregg Popovich’s illustrious coaching tree before landing his first head coaching gig with the Dubs in 2014. The sharpshooter went on to secure four championships as a coach alongside the five he won as a player with the Chicago Bulls.

He didn’t hold any head coaching jobs before taking over for Mark Jackson in the Bay Area but didn’t have too much trouble finding success early with his team’s talented young core. His son will have to work his way up to the big stage after getting some G League reps, though.

Nick didn’t pan out as an NBA player but did join the Spurs video room as an assistant in 2017-18. He then joined Golden State’s G League affiliate as an assistant for two seasons. Nick will replace Seth Cooper, who is now helping run Golden State’s player development program. Santa Cruz finished the 2022-23 season with an 18-14 record, which was good for seventh in the Western Conference.

NBA legend Dirk Nowitzki says he didn’t know how to use air conditioner in rental car he drove as a rookie

Dirk Nowitzki had an illustrious career that included an NBA championship and 14 All-Star appearances with the Dallas Mavericks. He will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend, and he recently told a story about how when he was a rookie he was sweating unnecessarily — in a very literal sense.

In a recent interview with Rachel Nichols, Nowitzki admitted one of the biggest lessons he learned in the United States was about car air conditioning.

Nowitzki in his rookie year he was only going to be in the country for a few months — due to a lockout shortening the 1998-99 NBA season to 50 games — and leave right after the season was over. He decided it was not worth it to buy a car until his second season in the league, so he opted for a rental instead.

“I was driving it around, it worked great. And of course, the players were always killing me when I drove up to practice or the plane,” he said.

“They all had their fancy cars, their SUVs, and the Hummer was big at the time and I had my little rental car.”

It worked fine for him, until things started heating up off the court.

“And so, we’re getting into April and May because the season was shifted and it was getting hot out,” he said. “It was getting warm already and I’ll come to the games and I’ll be in the lobby sweating… I’m walking in the locker room and I’m sweating a bit and they’re like, ‘Why are you sweating?'”

Nowitzki explained to his teammates that it was really hot outside and the inside of his car was really hot even though he drove with the windows down. At that point, someone went to his car and showed him the A/C button and explained he has to press it in order for cool air to come out.

“I was like, ‘Oh I was wondering how that worked.’ Growing up, the car I had at 18, I didn’t have A/C. Germany doesn’t get that hot, so I did not know about the A/C button. So that was a valuable lesson for sure,” Nowitzki said.

This story Dirk Nowitzki told me on Headliners about his rookie year CRACKED ME UP 😂😂😂 Dirk gets inducted to the @HoopHall this weekend – can’t wait.

— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) August 10, 2023
The 7-footer from Germany was the ninth overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft selected by the Milwaukee Bucks and then traded to the Dallas Mavericks. He made his debut on Feb. 5, 1999, and wrapped up his first season in the league averaging 8.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.0 assist in 47 games.

Not the worst for a rookie, but Nowitzki would go on to become a Mavericks legend and one of the greatest international stars in NBA history. He finished his career of 21 seasons averaging 20.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 1,522 regular-season games.

Nowitzki will be a headliner for the Class of 2023, along with other basketball legends such as Pau Gasol, Dwyane Wade, Becky Hammon and Gregg Popovich. The Hall of Fame ceremonies will take place Aug. 11 and 12..

Celtics vs. Lakers rivalry renewed; Nuggets to host Warriors, per report

The 2023 NBA Christmas Day schedule will be highlighted by the latest edition of the rivalry between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, and a meeting between the last two champions, the Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors, according to Shams Charania.

As per usual, there will be five marquee games running all day long. In other action, the Milwaukee Bucks will travel to Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Knicks, the Philadelphia 76ers will take on the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks will meet the Phoenix Suns.

This will be the seventh consecutive season that the Celtics have played on Christmas, and the fifth time overall that they’ve played the Lakers on the day. The most recent Christmas matchup between the longtime rivals came in 2008, when the Lakers secured a 92-83 win behind 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists from the late Kobe Bryant. Of course, the Celtics ended up getting the last laugh that season, when they went on to win the Finals over the Lakers in six games; they’ll hope a repeat of that history is in store.

As for the Nuggets and Warriors, they have both been staples on the Christmas schedule in recent years — this will be the 11th consecutive appearance for the Warriors — but they have never played each other on the day. They’ve had plenty of exciting matchups since their respective cores have been together, however, and this has a good chance to be the most exciting game of the day.

As for the Bucks’ trip to New York to play the Knicks, that will be a rematch of the 2018 Christmas game, which Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. won easily. Madison Square Garden has been good to Antetokounmpo throughout his career; he made his NBA debut there, jumped over Tim Hardaway Jr. for a dunk and hit a game-winner in 2017.

It’s interesting that the 76ers and Heat have been scheduled to play on Christmas given that both teams are currently in limbo regarding a few star players. The 76ers are trying to figure out what to do with James Harden, who has requested a trade and wants to play for the Los Angeles Clippers, while the Heat are hoping to eventually figure out a deal with the Portland Trail Blazers to acquire Damian Lillard. These two squads could look radically different come December.

You know it’s a great day of basketball when the Mavericks and Suns get mentioned last. This, of course, is a rematch of the teams’ dramatic 2022 second-round series, which the Mavericks won in seven games. It will also be the first time that they’ve ever played each other on Christmas. With Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal set to be in action, this should be a high-scoring affair.