This article is part of our Handicapping the NHL series.
Following a modified 56-game schedule that exclusively featured inter-division matchups, the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs are about to bring us two more rounds of divisional clashes. RotoWire will bring you a breakdown of each division ahead of the start of postseason play. AJ Scholz looks at the series and Conn Smythe odds courtesy of the DraftKings Sportsbook.
North Division Matchup
Montreal Canadiens (107) vs Winnipeg Jets (-130) - Game 1 Wednesday, 7:30 PM ET
It was all Jets in the regular season as they dispatched the Habs in nine games with a 6-3 record while scoring 3.44 goals per game. A tough end to the campaign saw netminder Connor Hellebuyck go 3-6-0 with a 2.97 GAA in his last 10 regular-season contests but he bounced back with his four-game sweep of the Oilers, including a Game 2 shutout. In the playoffs, the Habs don't have any players with more than five points which could see them struggle to beat the red hot Hellebuyck while the Jets offense, powered by Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, put up the third-best goals per game thus far at 3.50. Of course, Montreal's Carey Price is no slouch between the pipes, putting up a 2.44 GAA in seven games versus the Leafs' high-powered offense.
AJ's Pick: Giving up some juice to bet the Jets at -130 to win the series isn't a bad bet, in my opinion, but I'd prefer to look at the series spread with Winnipeg -1.5 games at +150. Looking beyond the series lines, Game 1 has Winnipeg favored at -132 yet I would consider turning to the Puckline to bring back +185 with Winnipeg giving up a goal and a half.
West Division Matchups
Vegas Golden Knights (360) vs Colorado Avalanche (-500) - Game 2 Wednesday, 10:00 PM ET
The series odds here are obviously a little skewed after the Avalanche dominated Game 1 with a 7-1 victory over the Knights. Vegas opted to utilize Robin Lehner in that contest but will almost certainly go back to Vezina Trophy nominee Marc-Andre Fleury, who got them through the seven games series with Minnesota on the back of a 1.71 GAA and one shutout. For their part, Colorado will also be fielding a Vezina Trophy nominee in Philipp Grubauer who led the league in shutouts (seven) and GAA (1.95) during the regular season. Offensively, the Avs have two of the top points producers in the playoffs in Nathan MacKinnon (12) and Gabriel Landeskog (11) despite having played in just five games. The return of Max Pacioretty, who has two points in two games, should improve the Golden Knights' chances of moving on.
AJ's Pick: At +360, it's impossible to ignore the Golden Knights to win the series despite the fact that they are already trailing by a game. Assuming The Flower is back between the pipes for Game 2, they have the benefit of icing a three-time Stanley Cup winner. Generally speaking, I do prefer Colorado to come out on top in this series but at those odds, Vegas is worth a shot.
Conn Smythe Trophy Odds
Considering Nathan MacKinnon has racked up an insane eight goals and 12 points in just five games, it should come as no surprise to see him leading the way at +175 to take home the playoff MVP award. Which teams come out of the second round will go a long way toward determining who picks up the hardware but other favorites include Nikita Kucherov (+700), Tuukka Rask (+900) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (+900).
AJ's Pick: The Avalanche are far from a lock to get past the Golden Knights in the second round but if they manage to do so, it will 100 percent be on the back of Nathan MacKinnon who figures to be a near-lock for the Conn Smythe if he makes it deep into the playoffs. If the Avs flameout, then looking at somebody from the other side of that matchup figures to be a reasonable look with Marc-Andre Fleury coming in at +1500.
AJ's Longshot: There are several alternatives to look at with Colorado in netminding Philipp Grubauer (+1700), Mikko Rantanen (+1500) or Gabriel Landeskog (+2000) but among the longshots, I prefer to look at some underdogs to advance out of the second round who would be vital to their team's success. The two guys that fit that bill are Carey Price (+2000) and Sebastian Aho (+2000). The Habs and Canes, respectively, will need to rely heavily on those studs if they are going to move on or make it into the Stanley Cup Finals.