After an absence of nearly four months, ice hockey is coming back and we are celebrating by making some NHL playoff predictions for the upcoming qualifying round!
As will be the case with many returning sports, the expectation is the online betting sites in New Jersey and other states where gambling is legal will be extremely busy taking wagers as action resumes in the two hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto.
NHL Playoff Predictions: What Is The NHL Playoff Format
Sports were originally halted in North America on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but on August 1st, the National Hockey League is resuming play with a one-time 24-team playoff format to compensate for all the teams that were still in contention.
The top four teams in each conference are already through to the first round of the postseason and will get back into the flow of things with a round-robin tournament, which leaves eight teams (seeds No. 5 through No. 12) on each side.
The play-in round will feature these eight teams being cut to four and joining the top four from that respective conference to fill out the playoff bracket. Each matchup is predetermined based on seeding and for a better idea, check out our 2020 Stanley Cup predictions.
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NHL Series Picks: Qualifying Round Predictions
The NHL playoffs are notoriously difficult to wager on and pro hockey is one of the few major sports where huge upsets take place in the postseason on a regular basis.
With a season and format like no other, this postseason is likely to bring more chaos to an already unpredictable situation. Not knowing what to expect does make the betting process a bit tricky but it also means there's value all over the board, you just need to find it.
Here are our suggestions when it comes to making 2020 NHL series picks for the play-in round:
Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets Predictions
There really isn't much separating these two Western Conferernce foes and the only matchup this season took place outdoors, so there's really nothing at all from a head-to-head perspective to base this on. Bettors haven't been able to trust either team, but which way will this go?
While the 2018-19 version of the Flames is one of the most high-octane offenses in hockey, the 2019-20 version has been something totally different. Taking Calgary is also contingent on goalie David Rittich playing well and matching Connor Hellbuyck, who gives Winnipeg the goaltending advantage on paper.
Contrary to logic, which would say the Jets, we are going with the Flames after getting healthy on the blue line during the time off and giving Rittich a chance to hit the reset button. The offense is also superior if it plays up to its capability, which will be a huge question.
NHL Series Pick: Calgary Flames (-128 at FanDuel)
Carolina Hurricanes vs. NY Rangers Predictions
The Hurricanes were one of two teams to vote against an expanded playoff because they were going to make it anyway. Well, things didn't go their way and now all the pressure is on them entering a tough play-in series with the Rangers.
The Blueshirts, who may have missed the postseason entirely with the normal format, will enter with about as much confidence as any team could. They are playing with house money to begin with and won all four games against Carolina in the season series.
New York is an offensive powerhouse led by Hart Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, and this is one team that we think should be able to score goals right away.
The goaltending situation is interesting, although it looks like rock-solid Igor Shesterkin will be in net when the series begins. If you're looking to make the Rangers one of your NHL series picks, BetMGM has the best number at +120.
NHL Series Pick: NY Rangers (+120 at BetMGM)
NY Islanders vs. Florida Panthers Predictions
This series features a contrast of styles and the predictions is really based on which team you believe will better execute its own game plan after so much time off. Florida has the better offense and the Islanders have one of the best defensive structures in the league.
We are looking at this restart a bit like the beginning of a season, where timing and chemistry could be a little bit off. That makes us think Florida may have some trouble scoring early on, especially against the Islanders' defense.
If Sergei Bobrovsky stands on his head, the Panthers have a great chance, but that hasn't been the case all season. We are going to bet that New York can smother the Florida offense and do enough against Bobrovsky to take the series in four or five games.
The Islanders are going into the qualifying round as a slight favorite at nearly every site but the lowest line around may just be at BetMGM where they are just -115.
NHL Series Pick: NY Islanders (-115 at BetMGM)
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens Predictions
If we're looking at teams with absolutely nothing to lose, there's always the Montreal Canadiens. This team was 10 points out of a playoff spot when the season was halted and wound up as the final cub to be allowed into the qualifying round.
Montreal has everything to gain and a goaltender that is definitely good enough to steal a short series, so that part is scary. With that said, Carey Price can't put the puck in the net, and Montreal has a serious issue with scoring depth.
The Penguins have the firepower and playoff experience to win a series against nearly any opponent, let alone the 24th-place team in the league. Pittsburgh was struggling in late February and early March and was probably one of the teams that benefitted from a pause in play from a momentum standpoint.
I would probably stay away from this series but if we had to pick, go with the favorites, whose line is lowest on DraftKings compared to many of its peers.
NHL Series Pick: Pittsburgh Penguins (-195 at DraftKings)
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets Predictions
The Maple Leafs have had perennial first-round playoff abandonment issues, but this could be the season they finally see round two as long as they don't let a more physical team push them around.
The Blue Jackets are the type of team that grinds out victories and is getting healthier as the playoffs begin. Still, this isn't the same team that entered last year's playoffs like a house of fire and destroyed the high-octane Lightning.
The game plan will be the same but our expectation is that the Maple Leafs' top line should be able to have the success that Tampa Bay didn't. Toronto also gets Frederik Andersen back in net, which is a huge boost.
There isn't much all that much value in the favorite but the best price is on FanDuel as we would still back Toronto if betting this series based on the difference in skill and in the net.
NHL Series Pick: Toronto Maple Leafs (-166 at FanDuel)
Edmonton Oilers vs. Chicago Blackhawks Predictions
This is yet another battle between one team with nothing to lose and another team who is looking to get over the hump and win a playoff series. What will be fun for us as viewers is the fact that this one should be all offense and we could see some scoring.
The Blackhawks were nowhere near the postseason before the break but now, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith are back in the playoffs after winning three cups together. Chicago has the experience and absolutely nothing to lose, so that does make them a pretty dangerous opponent when removing the skill of the two teams.
But for all its experience, Chicago isn't going to be able to keep up with the likes of McDavid and Draisaitl, especially on special teams. Edmonton is a flawed group but can take advantage of the Blackhawks on the back end and score enough to win.
FoxBet has the best price on the Oilers, BetMGM the best price on Blackhawks at +140.
NHL Series Pick: Edmonton Oilers (-150 at FoxBet)
Nashville Predators vs. Arizona Coyotes Predictions
This matchup may sound lopsided because of the Preds' success in recent years but Nashville and Arizona are much more closely-matched than people think, and this could be a great spot for the underdog.
Nashville was awful in a couple of key areas during the regular season including both sides of special teams and, believe it or not, goaltending. It has been a tough year for Pekka Rinne and with Darcy Kuemper returning for Arizona, the Coyotes may even have an advantage in net.
The Coyotes are great on special teams and have the firepower to make Nashville pay for their mistakes. Arizona is a slight underdog at every site but may be able to get the most for your money at DraftKings or BetMGM.
NHL Series Pick: Arizona Coyotes (+115 at DraftKings, BetMGM)
Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild Predictions
In one of the tougher series to predict, the defensive-minded Wild take on the Canucks with Vancouver as the favorite going in. Your guess is as good as ours but we're taking the better overall team in the Canucks, which also seems to come with a pretty low-cost betting line.
Minnesota is defensively responsible and decent in net with Alex Stalock, but Vancouver's Jakob Markstrom can match up there and the Canucks have far more offensive talent and depth. Take Vancouver to advance and check it out at DraftKings, where you can get the best price.