The Bruins, Lightning, Capitals, and Flyers will play a round-robin to determine the No. 1 seed in the East but which of the four is most likely to emerge as top dog?
Boston Bruins (+155)
It’s little wonder why the NHL odds being offered at BetOnline, on the league-leading Boston Bruins is the shortest of the four entries at +155 to claim the No. 1 seed. After all, the Bruins boasted the best goalie this season in Tuukka Rask with a league-best 2.12 GAA and second-ranked 92.9 save percentage. The B’s also owned a +53-goal differential after 70 games, good for tops in the league. However, this is unlike any other season and there is no momentum to build upon because everything is shiny and new. It should also be noted that Boston has a losing record against both the Lightning and Capitals this year while splitting their two games against the Flyers. As good as the Bruins were before the break, these odds are simply too low to include them in my NHL picks.
Tampa Bay Lightning (+280)
The Lightning enjoy the most explosive offense in the game and have 10 players in double figures for goals scored. The team is led by Russian sensation Nikita Kucherov along with one of the most dazzling centers in the league, Steve Stamkos. Like the Bruins, the Lightning are lethal on the power play, ranking fifth in the league and connecting on 23.2 percent of their opportunities. Yet, Tampa Bay is not nearly as stout on the defensive end as Boston but their goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, leads the league with 35 wins on the season. However, he has shouldered the vast majority of the workload and the break will do Vasilevskiy all kinds of good. I expect the 25-year-old Russian to be ready to rock when the puck drops in this three-game round-robin affair.
Washington Capitals (+350)
The Caps were 5-1 against the Bruins and Lightning this season but hit a brick wall whenever they faced off against the Flyers, going 0-3-1. However, the break might be just what Washington needed, or more specifically, what goaltender Braden Holtby needed. The nine-year veteran has struggled through one of his worst seasons with a 3.11 goals-against average and an 89.7 save percentage. Head coach Todd Reirden revealed that the starting job will be Holtby’s “to lose” when Washington returns to action.
I have to believe that Holtby is too good to struggle this long and will look at this reprieve as a chance to redeem himself. Should he falter, backup Ilya Samsonov has looked sharp in relief of Holtby this season. Although should Holtby get the hook early in this three-game tournament, it must be assumed that Washington will have lost at least that game and their chances of winning this three-game tourney would be severely diminished. But I don’t suspect that will happen and with a Caps’ offense led by Alex Ovechkin coupled with the top blueliner in the league in John Carlson, I see can see the Caps pulling out all the stops and copping the No. 1 seed.
Philadelphia Flyers (+385)
The Flyers could very well be the most compromised team of the four as they were streaking into the postseason before the COVID-19 pandemic put the brakes on the season. Philadelphia had strung together nine consecutive wins before the Bruins put an end to their winning ways with a 2-0 victory on March 10th, their last game before the league canceled the remainder of the regular season.
The biggest issue with the Flyers is that they struggle away from the familiar confines of the Wells Fargo Center. Their 16-18-3 road mark is the worst of any of the four teams in the East, as well as the top four in the West, in case anyone is counting. That will be a huge issue for the Flyers to overcome because in this new NHL reality there are no home-ice advantages because every game will be played at a neutral site. I believe the Flyers had their shot before the break as they were firing on all cylinders but the pause in the action will hurt them and they will not fare well against the beasts of the East.