NHL Betting Picks: Our Best Bets for Sunday’s Stanley Cup Playoff Games

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Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Alex Pietrangelo

The past two Stanley Cup winners are in action on Sunday and both of them are in heaps of trouble.

The last time Washington was down 0-2 in Round 1 was all the way back in 2018 when they dropped Games 1 and 2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets. A couple months later, the Caps were skating Lord Stanley around the rink.

The Caps will look to kick-start a similar turnaround against the Islanders at 12 p.m. ET.

Ten hours later it will be the St. Louis Blues trying to avoid their own 0-3 predicament against the Vancouver Canucks.

Both Washington and St. Louis are favored in their respective matches, but do our NHL analysts think either are worth a punt on Sunday?

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Sam Hitchcock: Washington Capitals (-113)

  • Odds available at DraftKings [Bet Now]
  • Puck Drop: 12 p.m. ET

There are murmurs that Nicklas Backstrom may return for Game 3. That is encouraging because Washington is toothless without him. During the regular season, with Backstrom on the ice, the Capitals had an expected goals of 53.91% at 5-on-5. The Capitals’ defensemen are flailing on their zone exits and Backstrom’s absence exacerbates this problem because he isn’t there to aid them.

Playing the No. 2 center spot due to Backstrom’s injury is Lars Eller, who is understandably rusty after having attended the birth of his child and not having played since Aug. 3. Eller’s bad turnover on a breakout led to the Matt Martin goal in Game 2.

In fact, the Eller line with T.J. Oshie and Vrana was responsible for all three of the Islanders’ 5-on-5 goals.

Even if Backstrom returns for Game 3, one player holds the power to nuke any effort of a comeback and that is goaltender Braden Holtby. Two goaltenders still alive in the playoffs have a worse Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) than Holtby at the moment. They are Jordan Binnington and Ben Bishop, both of whom are on teams that are trailing in the series. (Bishop also lost the starting job.)

It can be argued that Holtby lost Game 1 for the Capitals, but he wasn’t awful in Game 2. Unfortunately, his struggles are magnified when comparing him to Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who has been stellar. For Washington to make the series interesting, Holtby needs to elevate his play — and quickly.

Considering he was one of the worst goaltenders in GSAx during the regular season, and is likely on his way out of Washington, he may be the variable that most imperils a comeback. Still, one wonders what would happen if the Capitals simplified their game and resisted the East-West passes.

Maybe more than any other player, Evgeny Kuznetsov holds the key because he has the skill to skate into open space. If he takes those shots in the slot, it could alter the game.

I am haunted by the Capitals’ team defense and lack of supplementary scoring, and ultimately these probably doom them in the series. But going up 3-0 in the NHL playoffs is incredibly hard, and especially if Backstrom returns, Washington has the scoring firepower to temporarily overcome its many weaknesses.

At -113, I like the price for a team that won the Cup only two years ago with most of this roster.

[Bet the Washington Capitals at DraftKings and get a $1,000 sign-up bonus.]

Pete Truszkowski: St. Louis Blues (-132)

  • Odds available at DraftKings [Bet Now]
  • Puck Drop: 10:30 p.m.

St. Louis finds themselves down two games to none in their series against the Vancouver Canucks. Before Game 1, the oddsmakers had St. Louis as -200 favorites to win this series. Since then, St. Louis has arguably outplayed Vancouver in both games but lost both due to atrocious goaltending from Jordan Binnington.

Binnington has been beaten nine times on only 47 shots, good for an .809 save percentage. The rumor out of St. Louis is that backup goalie Jake Allen will be in net for Game 3. Allen was actually the eighth-best goalie in terms of goals saved above expectation, ahead of even Binnington, in the regular season.

St. Louis is 0-5 in The Bubble, but in Allen’s start they at least got the game to a shootout. Progress.

Why are we backing the Blues? It’s extremely hard to go up three games to zero in the NHL. Less than a week ago, the -200 series price suggested that St. Louis had a 67% chance of advancing to the second round. Here we are a few days later and you’re telling me that the Blues only have a 57% chance of avoiding going down three games? The math doesn’t seem to line up.

Of course, things change and the price should adjust to reflect what changes. However, St. Louis has an advantage in 5-on-5 shot attempts (94-71), scoring chances (36-35) and high danger chances (18-15). The narrative in this series is being shaped by a mismatch in the crease.

This is a team that went through the grind of the playoffs just a year ago en route to the Cup. I expect the Blues to rally around their goalie and make this a series starting on Sunday night. It’s not like the Canucks are a great team, either.

[Bet the St. Louis Blues at DraftKings and get a $1,000 sign-up bonus.]

Michael Leboff: St. Louis Blues (-132)

  • Odds available at DraftKings [Bet Now]
  • Puck Drop: 10:30 p.m. ET

At 5-on-5 this series has been even. The Blues have done a good job suppressing scoring chances, though they aren’t creating much for themselves. That’s kind of who they are, though. Unlike the Canucks, St. Louis wants to play a predictable style of hockey.

The Blues trust themselves to make less mistakes than their opponents on most nights and even if they do hiccup, they trust their All-Star goalie to make a big save to keep them in games.

That hasn’t been the case during the first two games of Round 1, however, as St. Louis has been making too many errors and Jordan Binnington has struggled mightily in goal, rendering St. Louis’ strong defensive efforts at 5-on-5 moot.

This isn’t to take anything away from Vancouver. The Canucks had to get St. Louis into a talent show to have a chance in this series and so far its working. I just am skeptical that Vancouver will keep scoring on 55.6% of its power plays and that Jacob Markstrom will continue to stop 96% of the shots he sees at 5-on-5.

The market is believing the hype, though.

St. Louis Blues Vancouver Canucks
Game 1 -150 +130
Game 2 -148 +125
Game 3 -132 +114

Odds via DraftKings

One of the best ways to spot value in the NHL Playoffs is to take a look at the betting history of each series because, in theory, there shouldn’t really be any huge swings in the market, barring a major injury or something of the like.

On Wednesday, the Blues were -150 (58% implied win probability) and the Canucks were +130. Two losses and three days alter and those same Blues are down to -132 (54.9%). OK, then.

The Blues have been underwhelming since they got to Edmonton but I’m still a believer. This is one of the NHL’s best teams and I can’t buy the Canucks at this price considering how they are achieving their success.

If you told me the Blues would get under -140 during this series I would have laughed. I’ll take the discount on the Defending Champs and would play them up to -135.

[Bet the St. Louis Blues at DraftKings and get a $1,000 sign-up bonus.]

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