NHL Division Finals Preview

The NHL Division Finals–the second round of the playoffs–begin tonight. Here’s a look at the four series ahead of us, along with what the betting markets–the collective opinion of the oddsmakers who issue opening numbers and the heavy bettors who then move those numbers with their cash–think about each one.
ATLANTIC DIVISION FINALS: Tampa Bay vs. Montreal: The market says this is the best of the second-round matchups, as it goes off at Pick’em.
It’s a great battle of goaltenders, with Montreal’s Carey Price and Tampa’s Ben Bishop. The Lightning have great offensive talent, led by Steven Stamkos and including Tyler Johnson, who was great in Tampa’s seven-game series in over Detroit. The Canadiens have one of the most explosive defensemen in the league in P.K. Subban. He’s a dirty player, as his slash in Game 1 against Ottawa–that went inexcusably unpunished by the league–indicates. But Subban on the power play is as dangerous as there. You have to attack him and make him give up the puck or his amazingly strong shot either scores or creates rebound opportunities.
Game 1 is on Friday in Montreal (7 PM ET, NBCSN)

METROPOLITAN DIVISION FINALS: Washington vs. NY Rangers: After winning the President’s Trophy and then dispatching Pittsburgh in five games, the market loves New York, a solid (-210) favorite.
The Capitals have got to get consistent energy from Alex Ovechkin. He was aggressive in the first four games of his team’s win over the New York Islanders–not always scoring, but consistently getting his shots on goal. He disappeared in the final three games it was Evgeny Kuznetsov that delivered in those games. New York is the better team, but I’m not sure that they’re (-210) kind of better. That’s steep, but if the Caps are going to do more than make a noble effort and say goodbye, they need Ovechkin on the attack every night. He’s got to make the Rangers stop him, rather than stopping himself.
Game 1 is on Thursday in Madison Square Garden (7:30 PM ET, NBCSN)
CENTRAL DIVISION FINALS: Minnesota vs. Chicago: The Blackhawks are the favorite, but surprisingly cheap, at (-135).
It’s the third straight year the Wild have faced the Blackhawks in the playoffs and Chicago has taken care of business each of the last two years. It reminds me of the early 1990s Green Bay Packers, when Brett Favre was first getting started. They ran into Jimmy Johnson’s Dallas Cowboys three straight years. In the last of those years, the Packers went from being roadkill to being genuinely competitive. They still lost that year (the 1995 NFC Championship Game) but it set the stage for a future championship. I can see the Wild following a similar pattern. They’re already halfway there, having been easy pickings for the Blackhawks in 2013 and 2014. I can see Minnesota making this one competitive, but not actually winning.
Game 1 is on Friday in Chicago (9:30 PM ET, NBCSN)
PACIFIC DIVISION FINALS: Calgary vs. Anaheim: The Ducks are the top seed in the West and priced like it, with their (-250) marking them the biggest favorite of the second round.
Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf were great in the first round, as Anaheim dispatched Winnipeg. If you want to find a concern, it would be that the Ducks repeatedly dug themselves holes before rallying to win. Another SoCal team, the Los Angeles Kings, made a habit of that last year, but I don’t know that doing that against the Jets is a good sign for the future. At the same time, I don’t see Calgary as having the talent to do much about it. I can see a good argument that Anaheim shouldn’t be this big of a favorite, but if they actually lose this series, it will be a significant blown opportunity.
Game 1 is tonight in SoCal (10 PM ET, NBCSN)
My own picks for the second round? I’d take the Lightning, Rangers, Blackhawks and Ducks to advance. The only one of those I’d actually be willing to put my money where my mouth is would be Chicago. From a rooting standpoint, I’ve most desirous of seeing Washington advance and Montreal lose, not necessarily in that order.