Thursday NHL Betting Picks: Our Best Bets for Islanders vs. Capitals, Flames vs. Stars (August 20)

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Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Tyler Seguin

  • Looking to bet the NHL playoffs tonight? Our staff compiled their favorite picks for the two-game slate.
  • They're backing the Islanders against the Capitals and the Stars against the Flames, which would close out the series for both teams.

There are only two Stanley Cup Playoff games on Thursday night but both of them are of the do-or-die variety.

The night gets going with an 8 p.m. ET pick drop between the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals. The Caps were able to stave off elimination as short underdogs on Tuesday and are back to being favorites for Game 5. Will the Isles take care of business or will the pressure mount on Barry Trotz’s team?

The Dallas Stars can also punch their ticket to the Final 8 with a win on Thursday night. The Stars have turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 series lead and are -124 favorites to eliminate the Calgary Flames on Thursday night.

Here are our favorite bets for Islanders vs. Capitals and Flames vs. Stars.

Michael Leboff: New York Islanders (-105)

  • Odds available at DraftKings [Bet Now]
  • Puck Drop: 8 p.m. ET

Outside of Game 4, this series has been one-way traffic for the Islanders. Even with their disastrous effort on Tuesday the Islanders come out ahead in every 5-on-5 metric in this series, especially on defense where they are limiting Washington to just 1.26 expected goals and five high-danger scoring chances (5-on-5) per game.

Washington Capitals New York Islanders
Goals 3 10
Expected Goals 5.03 7.08
Shot Attempts 160 167
High-danger scoring chances 20 42

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 cited from Evolving Hockey.


For the Capitals to win on Thursday they’ll need to jolt the Islanders from their usually steady game. A high-event game filled with scoring chances and penalties swings the pendulum towards Washington, especially since the Isles’ power play is 1-for-19 through five games. The Islanders just don’t have the scoring talent to keep pace with Washington in seesaw battles.

After closing at -136 ahead of Game 1, the Washington Capitals were underdogs in a do-or-die Game 4. The Caps responded with an impressive win and are now back in Chalk Land for Game 5.

Washington Capitals New York Islanders
Game 1 -136 +118
Game 2 -125 +108
Game 3 -109 -106
Game 4 -104 -113
Game 5 -112 -105

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At the time of writing (11 p.m. ET on Wednesday), the Islanders are priced between +100 (FanDuel) and -106 (BetMGM). One thing to keep in mind is that there’s a chance that Nicklas Backstrom plays for Washington in Game 5. If Backstrom draws in, I’d expect the betting market to move towards Washington.

Backstrom gives the Caps a better chance of winning but bettors often overreact to news like that so in a weird way Backstrom playing could offer more value on the Islanders.

When the odds are this tight I tend to lean towards the more stable team, and that’s the Islanders in this case. Washington certainly has the talent to win on any given night, but a lot more has to break right for the Caps than it does for the well-drilled Islanders. Another mistake-free night for the Isles is a more likely outcome than another dog-and-pony show like we saw on Tuesday night.

I’d like to get plus-money on the Islanders but I’ll be in at -105 if that’s all that pops.

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

Sam Hitchcock: New York Islanders (-105)

  • Odds available at DraftKings [Bet Now]
  • Puck Drop: 8 p.m. ET

Should students who don’t submit papers but ace their final be rewarded? According to the betting market, the answer is yes.

The Washington Capitals finally experienced a stretch of inspired play, walloping the New York Islanders for the second and third periods of Game 4. Even so, they barely escaped, winning 3-2. Evidently, for Game 5, that is enough to provide the Capitals with a -112 moneyline while the New York Islanders are -105.

The lopsided stats for these two teams are amusing. The Islanders have consistently pillaged the Capitals in the metrics, especially at 5-on-5. In the first three contests, the Islanders won the expected goals battle with a 65.94% (Game 1), 65.86% (Game 2), and 64,94% (Game 3). In each game, they outshot Washington at 5-on-5 and accrued far more high-danger chances.

But what makes the Islanders’ success remarkable is that scoring has been by committee. Their fourth line contributes in equal measure to their most talented players.

Compare that to the Capitals and the contrast in forward depth is stark. Three, four, and two. That is the sequence of 5-on-5 shots posted by the Washington Capitals’ bottom-six forwards in Games 1, 2, and 3.

The Islanders also have the goaltending edge. As teams get eliminated, New York goaltender Semyon Varlamov is positioned to have the second-best Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) of any netminder in the second round, only trailing Philadelphia’s Carter Hart.

Compare that to Washington’s Braden Holtby, who during the playoffs has a GSAx that is underwater at -0.36. He also has the worst Goals Saved Above Average of any goaltender since the first round started.

The Capitals need multiple circumstances to break right to win. They need their top-six forwards to assert control over the game again. Holtby needs to exhibit consistency.

And they will have to convert on at least one power-play chance. Seldom is the underdog the safer pick. Bettors should play the Islanders.

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

Pete Truszkowski: Dallas Stars (-124)

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

I’ve bet Dallas in every single game of this series so far, and I’m not stopping now.

Dallas has won the expected goals battle in every game except the opener, which was basically dead-even. The style of play that Dallas prefers to play lends itself to lower-scoring games which means that even in games where the Stars dominate, the scoreboard may tell us otherwise.

Dallas’ best player in this series has been Joe Pavelski. Pavelski scored a hat-trick in Game 4 to even the series and followed up that performance by posting an 86% expected goals in game 5.

Both top lines have basically been nullified, so the fact that the Stars can rely on Pavelski, Mattias Janmark and Denis Gurianov is a huge advantage, especially since Calgary has been without Matthew Tkachuk.

Thursday is a small slate for the NHL, and with limited choices I will look to keep riding the momentum the Stars have in this series.

I think they finish off the Flames and I’d bet anything under -130.

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

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