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.

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.

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.

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.