NHL Hockey Betting–First Round Playoff Betting Strategies


The NHL regular season is over and after 82 games we’ve got 16 teams remaining to compete for the Stanley Cup. There is no better playoffs in sports than the Stanley Cup with intensity from the opening faceoff. And the key to successfully betting the Stanley Cup playoffs is to understand it’s unique characteristics relative to other sports. If you think that the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is just like the first round of the NBA playoffs or ‘March Madness’ you’re in for a rude awakening.

Hockey players are just wired differently than not only normal human beings but other professional athlete. That’s what makes the sport so great—in no sport do you get the combination of finesse, speed, skill, toughness, character and guts that you’ll find in the NHL. NHL players play through injuries that would sideline NBA basketball players for months. And no where is this on more prominent display than during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

In most sports, the first round of the playoffs is a joke with top seeds playing overmatched teams. Not so in the NHL hockey betting where the Stanley Cup playoffs are a war from the opening face off. Here are some things to remember when handicapping the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs:


In the NBA, you’re lucky if there’s one or two competitive first round matchups. That actually makes it tougher to handicap—it’s not easy to determine which overmatched first round underdogs will show up to compete. In the NHL, it’s a given. First round series are very evenly matched, highly competitive and ripe with underdog upsets.

In the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs first round every series but two went at least six games. In the only series sweep Anaheim beat Winnipeg 4 games to none but it could have gone much differently. The Ducks trailed heading into the third period of the first three games of the series. Three of the series saw the lower seeded team win and advance.

There is a ridiculous amount of parity in the NHL. Players don’t just show up for a paycheck like they do in many other sports. A team doesn’t even make the playoffs unless they’ve got serious competitive intensity and none of them are just ‘happy to be there’. For that reason, don’t think that higher seeded teams and betting favorites are a ‘sure thing’ to make it into the next round. Furthermore, don’t be afraid to pick outright upsets if the matchup looks right.


The tough first round matchups also make it crucial for teams to not think that they can just ‘turn it on’ when they reach the playoffs. There’s a lot to like about teams that enter the postseason with a lot of momentum. Good teams will dial back the intensity late in the season if they can afford to do so but you won’t see them just tank games in order to rest the entire starting lineup. The risk of losing momentum and not being able to regain it is just too great.


Injuries are a problem at any time of the season but are especially so in the playoffs. One thing to look for is the recency of significant injuries. Hockey teams are generally good about dealing with a change in circumstance due to injury. At this time of the year, however, the problem arises when they simply don’t have the time or options to address a serious injury situation. This is especially true for goaltender injuries which often require a bit of ‘trial and error’ to find a replacement.