2018 NHL Conference Finals Predictions: Firsts Are Foremost
Eastern Conference Finals Odds
Friday, May 11, 8pm: Capitals @ Lightning | NBCSN, TVA Sports
Sunday, May 13, 8pm: Capitals @ Lightning | NBCSN, TVA Sports
Tuesday, May 15, 8pm: Lightning @ Capitals | NBCSN, TVA Sports
Thursday, May 17, 8pm: Lightning @ Capitals | NBCSN, TVA Sports
*Saturday, May 19, 7:15pm: Capitals @ Lightning | NBC, TVA Sports
*Monday, May 21, 8pm: Lightning @ Capitals | NBCSN, TVA Sports
- *Wednesday, May 23, 8pm: Capitals @ Lightning | NBCSN, TVA Sports
Suddenly, the Capitals, poster boys for playoff failure, are the familiar face left in the race. Washington is the only team remaining in the postseason that made the playoffs a a year ago. Is this the year that Caps captain Alex Ovechkin changes the narrative on his NHL career? He’s won just about everything – three Hart Trophies, three Lester Pearson Trophies and seven Rocket Richard Trophies. All that’s missing is the Stanley Cup as he reaches the conference final for the first time in his 13-season NHL career.
The Lightning were looked upon as Stanley Cup favorites by many at the start of the season. They are loaded with high-end skill, led by Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point. They have a Norris Trophy contender on defense in Victor Hedman and an underrated goalie in Andrei Vasiliveskiy. They’ve yet to be tested this spring, taking out the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins in five games apiece through the first two rounds.
Finally dispatching their long-time nemesis the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals were able to take advantage of Pittsburgh’s thin blue line. They won’t have that edge against the Lightning. Beyond Hedman, Tampa Bay is deep on defense, with the steady Anton Stralman, reliable Ryan McDonough, imposing Braydon Coburn and sensational rookie Mikhail Sergachev. Bovada agrees, making the Lightning the -180 favorites to win the series. You’ll get odds of +160 if you opt to roll with the Capitals.
BABB Pick: Tampa Bay Lightning (-180)
Western Conference Finals Odds
Winnipeg Jets (C2) vs. Vegas Golden Knights (P1)
Saturday, May 12, 7pm: Golden Knights @ Jets | NBC, TVA Sports
Monday, May 14, 8pm: Golden Knights @ Jets | NBCSN, TVA Sports
Wednesday, May 16, 9pm: Jets @ Golden Knights | NBCSN, TVA Sports
Friday, May 18, 8pm: Jets @ Golden Knights | NBCSN, TVA Sports
*Sunday, May 20, 3pm: Golden Knights @ Jets | NBC, TVA Sports
*Tuesday, May 22, 9pm: Jets @ Golden Knights | NBCSN, TVA Sports
- *Thursday, May 24, 8pm: Golden Knights @ Jets | NBCSN, TVA Sports
Winnipeg hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1902. Vegas has never played for the Cup, and the Golden Knights are seeking to join the 1967-68 St. Louis Blues as the only first-year NHL teams to play in the Stanley Cup final. It’s getting harder and harder to doubt the Golden Knights. They are relentless and just keep coming. Like the ’67-68 Blues, who had Glenn Hall, Vegas has a veteran Cup-winning goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury and perhaps the NHL’s top line in William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith.
The Jets went into Nashville to face the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Predators and didn’t lose a game in regulation, winning three of four on the home ice of the NHL’s best regular-season team. Winnipeg boasts a deep group of forwards and a solid defensive corps. Connor Hellebuyck set an NHL record for wins by an American goalie and F Mark Schiefele scored seven road goals in Round 2, a Stanley Cup record. Don’t count out the whiteout.
It’s been a fabulous run for the Golden Knights, but they’ll be hard-pressed soaring with the Jets, explaining why Bovada lists them at +125 to win the series. Vegas has proven strong at home all season long but they must start the conference final on the road, facing the Winnipeg whiteout. The depth of scoring and deep defense of the Jets, the only team in the NHL to finish in the top five in both goals scored and goals against, will make the difference.
BABB Pick: Winnipeg Jets (-145)
2018 NHL Conference Finals Picks
Things evened out in the second, with a 2-2 slate. The split was right down the middle, 1-1 in each conference, with the Penguins and Sharks being the teams that failed to deliver the goods. Coupled with a solid 6-2 opening round, the two-round mark is an overall slate of 8-4.
|May 11||WSH at TBL||Game 1||TBL||WSH|
|May 12||VGK at WPG||Game 1||VGK||WPG|
|May 13||WSH at TBL||Game 2||TBL||WSH|
|May 14||VGK at WPG||Game 2||WPG||VGK|
|May 15||TBL at WSH||Game 3||TBL||TBL|
|May 16||WPG at VGK||Game 3||VGK||VGK|
|May 17||TBL at WSH||Game 4||TBL||TBL|
|May 18||WPG at VGK||Game 4||WPG||VGK|
|May 19||WSH at TBL||Game 5||TBL||TBL|
|May 20||VGK at WPG||Game 5||WPG||VGK|
|May 21||TBL at WSH||Game 6||WSH||WSH|
|May 23||WSH at TBL||Game 7||TBL||WSH|
The Golden Knights will open on the road for the first time in the playoffs, but they’ve won their opening game in both rounds, and we’ll stick with them even though they’ll be on foreign ice in Winnipeg. Goaltending is so essential to Stanley Cup success and Fleury is giving the Golden Knights world-class puckstopping, making hockey people wonder if Pittsburgh kept the right netminder. He’s posted four shutouts and lost just once in regulation in 10 decisions (8-2).
When it comes to a playoff-hardened team, the Lightning are the club that fits the bill. Tampa Bay is back in the final four for the third time in four springs. The Lightning lost the 2015 Stanley Cup final to Chicago, and were eliminated Pittsburgh in the 2016 Eastern Conference final. The bonus if you are a Capitals supporter is that the team knocked Tampa Bay out of the playoffs in each of those scenarios ended up winning the Stanley Cup.
Winning on the road is another key element to penning a Stanley Cup success story, and all four of the teams left in the hunt have proven to be road warriors. The Capitals are 5-1 away from home, while the Golden Knights are 4-1 and the Lightning 3-1. The Jets are 4-2. Winnipeg clinched its spot in the conference final by winning a Game 7 at Nashville. Both Vegas and Washington have closed out both of their series with road wins.
NHL Championship Odds Update
Not since the New York Islanders won four straight Cups from 1980-83 has any NHL player skated for at least three Stanley Cup winners in a row, but two players remain in the hunt to end that long drought this spring. Both Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Tampa Bay Lightning forward Chris Kunitz won the Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in each of the past two years. Fleury would be just the eighth goalie in NHL history to get his name on the Cup in three successive seasons.
They are the only team left in the hunt with a Stanley Cup pedigree, so it should come as no surprise that the Tampa Bay Lightning are the +190 favorites to lift Lord Stanley’s mug aloft in the Bovada future book. It’s been looked upon as the year of the Lightning since the pucks first dropped in November and they’ve done little to dissaude that belief. Steve Yzerman could become the third to win the Cup as captain and GM, joining Eddie Gerard and Bob Gainey.
It’s a strange bunch that joins the Lightning in the NHL conference finals. The Washington Capitals (+400) have never won the Stanley Cup and made their only trip to the final in 1998, getting swept by the Detroit Red Wings. The Vegas Golden Knights (+350) didn’t have any players at this time a year ago, and no first-year team has ever won a title in any major North American sport. The Winnipeg Jets (+220) are in the conference for the first time. Winnipeg last won the Stanley Cup in 1902, 16 years before the NHL was born.
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