Check out our NHL picks as the Stanley Cup playoff race reaches fever pitch!
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Smell that? It's the NHL reaching the apex of its 2021 Stanley Cup playoff race. Plenty of teams have already clinched their bids, but a handful of spots remain up for grabs. Our NHL Odds, Picks & Predictions for May 3-6 aim to help you sort through what's rapidly becoming a free-for-all.
NHL Odds and Predictions Breakdown
Since we're dealing with a lot of games that carry NHL playoff implications, let's quickly run through the league's new postseason format.
To help alleviate the challenges associated with travel this year, the NHL is using four divisions: Central, East, North and West. The top four squads from each will make the playoffs, and those postseason matchups will take place within the division. When there is one team left standing from each, the remaining four will be reseeded according to their regular-season point total.
On to our NHL picks!
Arizona Coyotes (-135) vs. Los Angeles Kings (+120)
Three of the top-four spots are already sewn up in the West division. The three teams competing for that final slot are the Los Angeles Kings, Arizona Coyotes and St. Louis Blues.
That makes this tilt between the Kings and Coyotes important for obvious reasons. But it carries even more meaning than meets the eye. Currently, the Blues are overwhelming favorites to land that last playoff bid, and both of their games this week (May 3 and May 6) come against the lowly Anaheim Ducks.
That puts the onus on the Kings and Coyotes to keep winning while keeping their fingers crossed for the Blues to stumble. Ergo, for this game specifically, both are in a win-or-go-home situation. The victor will retain a chance to make the playoffs. The loser will forfeit theirs.
Picking between the two is tough. We're inclined to go with the Kings. They have Anze Kopitar on their side, and Arizona allows noticeably more goals per game on the season.
OSB Prediction: Los Angeles Kings
Washington Capitals (-110) vs. New York Rangers (+100)
The New York Rangers suffered a major blow to their playoff chances after losing both of their weekend matchups with the New York Islanders by a combined 10-1. As a result of those victories, the Islanders clinched the third of four playoff spots in the East, leaving the Rangers to fend with the Boston Bruins for the final spot.
Talk about an uphill battle.
Most projection systems give the Rangers under a 1 percent chance of beating out the Bruins. We're slightly higher on their chances. They have four of the top-30 point-getters on the season this year, and their overall point differential is that of a much better team than their record.
New York's mission is simple to begin the week: Win against the Washington Capitals, and they'll set up a big-time showdown with Boston on May 6. And you know what? Given the Bruins' mediocre offense, we're going with the Rangers here.
OSB Prediction: New York Rangers
Edmonton Oilers vs. Vancouver Canucks (May 4)
So much remains unresolved in the North Division, where the Toronto Maples Leafs are so far the only team to clinch a postseason bid. And while the Edmonton Oilers aren't in danger of falling out of a top-four spot, they are jockeying for position with the Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, and Montreal Canadiens.
Earning second-place—Toronto has all but cinched first—is a fairly big deal. It means avoiding the Maple Leafs in Round 1. Fortunately, the Oilers have the inside track.
Not only do they have Conor McDavid, the odds-on MVP favorite and league leader in total points, playing at his apex, but they also have four straight matchups against the Vancouver Canucks, who boast one of the least impressive offenses in the NHL.
It would be unrealistic to expect the Oilers to win all four matchups. Stuff happens. But this will mark their second meetup, and if Edmonton can take two of the first three games, they're bound to lock themselves into the No. 2 spot in the North. And we believe that's exactly what they'll do.
OSB Prediction: Edmonton Oilers
Boston Bruins vs. New York Rangers (May 6)
If the Rangers win their game with the Capitals, as we predicted, and the Bruins lose at least one of their two matchups against the New Jersey Devils, this instantly becomes the biggest contest of the week.
But do the Rangers have enough juice (and luck) in them to beat the odds?
The first part of a surprising playoff bid is feasible. We don't see Boston winning both sets of a back-to-back against New Jersey. The second part is less clear. Though the Rangers profile as a top-seven team in the entire league given their point differential and strength of schedule, they've had trouble putting away some of their more elite opponents.
To top it all off, the Bruins aren't about to roll over. They've won nine of their last 11 games at this writing and own one of the NHL's five stingiest defenses. We're giving this game to them, regardless of the stakes, by a hair.
OSB Prediction: Boston Bruins