And just like that, the Conference Finals are about to begin in the NHL Playoffs. Sixteen teams entered the tournament, and only four remain for the right to hoist the Stanley Cup.
On Tuesday, the Western Conference Final kicks off in Denver, as the Colorado Avalanche – many’s preseason choice for champion – hosts the Edmonton Oilers, who shocked the hockey world in round two, knocking out the in-state rival Flames in just five games.
The Avalanche are absolutely loaded from top to bottom, and it was most evident in Game 6 against the Blues, as the Avs used three goals from their bottom six, including a game-winner from fourth-liner Darren Helm, to advance to their first conference final in two decades. Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog – this team was built to win the Cup this year, and they’re just four wins away from having the chance.
As for Edmonton, what more needs to be said? They’ve got the best player in the world who has somehow raised his level of play so significantly in the playoffs that many are comparing him to an Oiler of the past who wore a number two digits higher than Connor McDavid currently does. And Leon Draisaitl, who could very well be the second-best player in the league, matched McDavid’s Round Two point total to help propel the Oilers past Calgary in an upset.
It’s McDavid vs. MacKinnon – what more could you ask for? Here’s the bet I’m placing before the series gets underway.
Edmonton Oilers +1.5 Games (-105; DraftKings)
If you’ve followed this series in the playoffs, you’ll be familiar with series bets. But for those who are new, we’re essentially betting on Edmonton to win at least three games in the Western Conference Final. They can win the series outright or lose in seven games, and we’ll cash a ticket.
Let’s not beat around the bush. I highlighted this last round, and I’ll say it again now – I’m not standing in the way of what Connor McDavid is doing on the ice right now. He’s playing at a level we haven’t seen from any player in decades, and no matter how good Colorado is – and they are very good – they’re not prepared to shut him down. No team is. And on that alone, I think the game’s best player can will his team to at least one road win – something that will be crucial to this wager.
Most Playoff Points Per Game in NHL History (min 30 GP)
Wayne Gretzky 1.84
Mario Lemieux 1.61
Leon Draisaitl 1.61
Barry Pederson 1.53
Connor McDavid 1.45#LetsGoOilers
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) May 27, 2022
McDavid isn’t doing this alone, though, and that’s what makes Edmonton such a threat right now. His linemates are performing at levels they’ve never reached before as well. Somewhat quietly, Leon Draisaitl has just as many points (26) and goals (7) as McDavid this postseason, and each player has 10 more points than any other postseason skater. And the third of the top-line trio, Evander Kane, leads the playoffs with 12 goals – six of which came in his two hat trick performances thus far this playoff. It’s a line that simply doesn’t get denied many chances, which leads me to the second pillar of this wager.
Darcy Kuemper has played well for most of the season, but the playoffs have presented a new challenge for the Colorado netminder. He’s fifth with a 2.44 goals-against average, but in taking a deeper look at his game, he will need to boost his play by leaps and bounds if he wants to take some pressure off his team to score goals. Kuemper ranks 26th of 30 playoff goaltenders in goals saved against expectation, tallying a -3.0 mark thus far. Based on the shot quality faced, Kuemper has allowed three more goals than he should have.
If any team is going to exploit shortcomings in the crease, it’s the Oilers. Edmonton is first in scoring this playoff with 4.33 goals per game, and they just made Jacob Markstrom, a goalie who is going to finish second in the Vezina voting, struggle to a .863 save percentage in the second round. The Oilers are lethal on the power play at 28.2%, and killing penalties has been a struggle for the Avalanche in the playoffs. Colorado has killed off just 73.1% of man advantages in the postseason, which will have to turn around if they want a chance to move to the Cup Final.
Ultimately, I see Colorado winning this series in a deciding seventh game, but I wouldn’t be the least bit shocked if Edmonton kept this party going. Getting nearly even money on the Oilers +1.5 games is great value, and it’s my best bet heading into Game 1.
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