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NHL Best Bets: Picks and Predictions for Saturday’s Five Qualifying Round Games

NHL Best Bets: Picks and Predictions for Saturday’s Five Qualifying Round Games article feature image

Jeff Vinnick, Getty Images.

  • The NHL returns to action on Saturday, August 1 with a five-game slate beginning at 12 p.m. ET.
  • Michael Leboff previews all five matches and shares his best bets for Rangers vs. Hurricanes, Blackhawks vs. Oilers, Panthers vs. Islanders, Canadiens vs. Penguins and Jets vs. Flames.

The NHL’s March-Madness-in-August format is both awesome and overwhelming. The games are going to be coming fast and furious and staying on top of the hockey while there’s NBA, MLB and golf going on may be tough for some bettors.

The point of this article is to give readers some quick-and-actionable tips on each game, in case you don’t have time to take a deep dive with me in my game previews. If you’d like to dig into each matchup in more detail, you know with numbers and stuff, you can find those previews here:

The puck drops at 12 p.m. ET and there will be hockey all day and deep into the night, so enough chatting, let’s talk picks:

New York Rangers (+105) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (-125)

12 p.m. ET, NBCSN

The betting market is a bit undecided on this matchup and I’m not all that surprised. The Hurricanes are the better team but are likely to be without their best player. The Rangers were red hot before the break and have better goaltending, but they are a mistake-happy team that can give up five goals on a moment’s notice.

It may sound weird because I thought the Hurricanes made a great Stanley Cup bet before the Hamilton uncertainty, but I’m really not interested in paying anything above -125 on the Hurricanes to win this game or series.

That’s because a single game or even a best-of-5 series in the NHL is a glorified coin flip, so it’s hard to stomach paying 30 cents for a team in their first game back. I think the Hurricanes have enough talent to win out over a two-month tournament, but there’s too much variance in these small samples to pay a premium on any team.

At the moment (5 p.m. ET on Friday), the market seems to be settling on Carolina at -125 (bet365) or -130 (FanDuel, DraftKings, MGM). I’d like the Rangers at +120, but I don’t think that number will ever surface considering the Blueshirts are a tad trendy.

So, it looks like for this game I’ll wait to see if I can grab a -120 on Carolina, but if that doesn’t come I’ll still take -125. I don’t think that number has that much value but because it’s the first game back and I don’t have the self-control to sit out the first meaningful NHL game in 10 weeks, I’ll bite.

Pick: Hurricanes -125 or better

[Bet now at bet365. NJ only.]

Chicago Blackhawks (+135) vs. Edmonton Oilers (-162)

3 p.m. ET, NBC

A lot would need to go right for the Blackhawks to have success over the Oilers in a longer format, but in one game or a best-of-5, the playing field is leveled.

When you convert the listed odds (-162/+135) to implied probability, you get:

  • Edmonton: 59.2% win probability
  • Chicago: 40.8% win probability

I think this number sells Chicago a bit short and would be willing to bet them at +130 or better in Game 1. I also like the Hawks to win the series at +135 or better.

Picks: Blackhawks to win Game 1 +130 or better; Blackhawks to win series +135 or better

[Bet now at BetMGM. CO, NJ, IN and WV only.]

Florida Panthers (+100) vs. New York Islanders (-115)

4 p.m. ET, NBCSN

Even though they approach the game differently, there isn’t all that much that separates these two teams on paper and the odds reflect that.

The Islanders won’t knock your socks off but they’re dependable, while the Panthers have a high ceiling but are a roller coaster ride. That’s why I think the Panthers are better as a long-term bet (Eastern Conference, Stanley Cup, etc.) instead of a game-by-game play. Florida has a high enough ceiling that if you take the ride, you could get paid off handsomely.

That kind of payoff isn’t going to come from betting on Florida to win a game or even the series, so if you’re itching to bet the Panthers, I’d shoot for the stars.

As for the single-game market, I think the Isles are the better bet, at least for Game 1. I wouldn’t say there’s much value in anything above -115, but if you’re just kicking back and want some action on the game, my money would go on the Isles, who are slightly better overall and more reliable than Florida.

Pick: Islanders -115 or better

[Bet now at DraftKings. CO, NJ, PA, IN and WV only.]

Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

8 p.m. ET, NBC

If your betting strategy is to just pick the team that’s more likely to win no matter the price, then by all means go pay up for Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more nuance to betting than that and that way of thinking will catch up to you down the road.

So even though the Habs lose to the Penguins far more often than they win, the price is good enough to invest in Montreal. The Habs can hang with any team in the NHL at 5-on-5 and if they get Carey Price back on track, they’re live dogs in this series. So as long as you’re OK knowing that you lose these bets more often than you win them, I think the Habs will be the value side in the single-game and series market.

The market seems to be in agreement with that sentiment as Montreal has ticked down to +145 or even +140 at some sportsbooks.

There’s going to be a lot of casual money in the market on Saturday night so there’s a chance the Penguins will take a chunk of money right before puck drop but I’m not going to risk missing out on the +155 at BetMGM.

Even the Habs do tick down market-wide, I still think they are worth a bet at +145 or better to win Game 1 and/or +185 or better to win the series. I also took a small shot on the Habs to win the Stanley Cup at +8000.

I just can’t quit this team.

Picks: Canadiens to win Game 1 +145 or better; Canadiens to win series +185 or better

[Bet now at BetMGM. CO, NJ, IN and WV only.]

Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames

10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN

I very rarely bet favorites, especially big ones, in hockey. The sport welcomes chaos — it is played on ice after all — and that kind of volatility makes me weary of paying up for chalk.

There are exceptions to the rule, however, and this seems to be one of them. With the added disclaimer that anything can happen in this tournament, I’m not quite sure why the Jets are getting so much respect in this series. The Flames have holes, sure, but Winnipeg was one of the worst 5-on-5 teams in the NHL over the course of the regular season.

I’d say it’s more likely that the Jets continue their poor 5-on-5 play than it is that Hellebuyck carries his other-worldly form into the bubble. And if I get beat by a red-hot goalie, I tip my JOFA Helmet and move on.

Pick: I like Calgary at -120 or better to win Game 1 and -125 or better to win the series.

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