Bruins vs. Capitals Game 1 Odds & Picks: How to Bet Boston vs. Washington on Saturday (May 15)
Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand
- The NHL playoffs begin Saturday when the Washington Capitals take on the Boston Bruins.
- The Caps finished the regular season with a better record and own home-ice advantage, but they're underdogs in the series.
- Michael Leboff explains how that impacts Game 1 of the series in his betting preview below.
Bruins vs. Capitals Odds
|Time||Saturday, 7:15 p.m. ET|
“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” — William Shakespeare
You could see this one coming.
Back in December, longtime Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara announced he would not be returning to Beantown and would instead be signing a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals.
In normal seasons the Caps and Bruins would be passive rivals and see each other three or four times. But as fate would have it, this unique season squeezed Boston and Washington into the same division, meaning they would play one another eight times in the regular season and that there would be a significant chance they’d square up in the divisional rounds of the postseason.
That brings us to Saturday night, when Boston and Washington will kick off the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a tantalizing Game 1 showdown.
Despite finishing with a better record and having home-ice advantage, the Capitals are +116 underdogs in this series. Is Washington priced correctly? Or is the betting market putting too much stock in how these two teams finished up the regular season?
Tale of the Tape
The Bruins and Capitals are known for different things.
While Boston has built a reputation as one of the NHL’s premier defensive teams under Bruce Cassidy, most hockey fans associate the Capitals with a high-powered offense headlined by Alex Ovechkin. Both of those things rang true once again this season, but there’s some context needed when you break down the statistical portfolios for these two teams.
|Stat||Washington Capitals||Boston Bruins|
|Goals For per 60 minutes (5-on-5)||2.94||2.37|
|Goals Against per 60 (5-on-5)||2.35||2.07|
|Goal Share (5-on-5)||55.53%||53.37%|
|Expected Goals per 60 (5-on-5)||2.21||2.16|
|Expected Goals Against per 60 (5-on-5)||2.06||1.89|
|Expected Goal Rate (5-on-5)||51.78%||53.33%|
|High-Danger Scoring Chances per 60 (5-on-5)||9.95||8.86|
|High-Danger Scoring Chances Allowed per 60 (5-on-5)||8.79||8.7|
|Power Play %||25.68%||21.71%|
|Penalty Kill %||83.65%||86.29%|
|Expected Save Percentage (5-on-5)||94.52%||94.25%|
|Save Percentage (starting goalie)||90.2%||91.3%|
|Goals Saved Above Expectation (starting goalie)||-6.67||-1.16|
Expected goals (also known as xG) is a predictive statistic that gives an indication of whether results are based on sustainable factors like a steady creation of scoring chances, or whether it is down to aspects such as shooting luck or outstanding goaltending.
Simply put, an expected goals rate (xGF%) above 50% is considered good because it means a team is creating the majority of the scoring chances. Anything below 50% is usually a sign that a team is struggling to control play.
xG numbers and advanced stats cited from Evolving Hockey, MoneyPuck and Natural Stat Trick.
Perhaps the most important thing to note is that the Boston Bruins have been on fire since the trade deadline. Not only did the B’s go 12-4-1 in 17 games since acquiring Taylor Hall on April 12, but they also took their soaring heights and looked like the contender everybody expected them to be when the season started.
Over their last 17 games, the Bruins dominated their opposition at 5-on-5. They were aided by an easy schedule that saw them play eight games against the Sabres and Devils, but Boston’s uptick in form was so precipitous that it became hard to ignore.
After moseying their way through the middle part of the regular season, the Bruins really turned on the jets after acquiring Hall, Curtis Lazar and Mike Reilly at the trade deadline. The acquisitions, specifically Hall’s arrival, addressed Boston’s biggest flaw — its lack of scoring depth behind Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.
|Stat (5-on-5)||Before Hall (39 games)||After Hall (17 games)|
|Goals For per 60 minutes||2.02||3.14|
|Expected Goals per 60 minutes||1.95||2.62|
|Expected Goals Rate||49.3%||61.7%|
With Hall (plus Lazar and Reilly) in the lineup, the Bruins looked like an elite team. No team in the NHL had a better expected goals rate than Boston since the trade deadline, and the Bruins took a bottom-five offense and turned it into a top-10 unit without sacrificing their defensive prowess.
Boston’s turnaround leaves bettors with a conundrum. Are the B’s as good as the team we saw down the stretch? Or will they come back down to Earth against a formidable opponent that boasted a top-10 defense at 5-on-5 this season?
How Healthy Is Washington?
While Boston’s turnaround is obviously the main driving force in making it the favorite in this series, there’s also a lot of uncertainty with the Capitals right now.
Over the past few weeks, the Caps have dealt with a number of injuries to key players like Ovechkin, John Carlson, T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Ilya Samsonov and Justin Schultz. A cohort of the banged-up Caps have returned, but the situation will require monitoring as we get closer to puck drop.
Despite the cluster of injuries, the Caps still skated to a very respectable 9-4-1 record down the stretch. Even more encouraging is that the Caps skated to a 58.52% expected goals rate and their defense was only surrendering 1.75 xGA per 60 minutes in that span.
At the moment, it seems like the narrative around this series is that the Bruins are surging while the Caps are wobbling, but if you take a step back, you’d see that the Capitals, despite their lineup-drama, seem to be in good form heading into the playoffs.
Bruins vs. Capitals Series & Game 1 Betting Summary
Both of these teams do a lot of the same things well. Or, at the very least, they can counter strength with strength. Washington has a potent, clinical offense. Boston has a sturdy defense. The Bruins have the league’s best penalty kill, but the Capitals will put it to the test with their league-leading power play.
Where there is a bit of a discrepancy is in the blue paint. While Tuukka Rask’s numbers this season won’t knock your socks off, he is undoubtedly the A-side in this goaltending matchup and has a track record of playoff success. Boston’s defense makes life easy on Rask, so as long as he makes the save he’s supposed to, he should give the B’s a significant edge in goal.
In the regular season, the Caps can get away with subpar goaltending thanks to an offense that can regularly outscore any gaffes by their young goaltenders. But against a defense this dynamic, that task becomes tougher, and that means Washington will need to lean heavily on either Ilya Samsonov or Vitek Vanecek in what looks to be a tight series.
Samsonov entered the season as the de facto starter, but the 24-year-old Russian has underwhelmed with a .902 save percentage and a -6.67 Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx) in 19 games. If Peter Laviolette had a more reliable deputy, he could turn to him in this series but his only other option is playing rookie Vitek Vanecek. The Czech played admirably in 37 games, but his numbers were below average (.907 SV%, -8.45 GSAx), and this will be his first go-round in the postseason.
Had this series taken place a few weeks ago, this price would look a lot different. The Capitals spent a good chunk of the season as the better team, and it took the Bruins a long time to play like a contender. But the important thing is that they did and now are in position to make another deep run in the spring.
There are a couple of different betting strategies I find appealing in this series.
The first is to go against the grain and bet on this being a short series. While the market has made Boston a decent favorite, the general consensus is that this series will go deep, and that type of sentiment will often lend some value on being contrarian and betting on a series prop like Boston to sweep at +1000 or backing the Bruins to win the series by at least two games at +155.
As for Game 1, I think the numbers show that the price on the Bruins still holds some value. At -120 the Bruins have an implied win probability of 54.6%, meaning if you think Boston wins Saturday’s playoff curtain-raiser more than 55% of the time, it’s worth a bet.
I think they do tick that box and like Boston up to -125 on Saturday night.
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