As the Penguins open their Stanley Cup playoffs series against the New York Rangers Tuesday night, should bettors care more that Pittsburgh has the same stars who’ve won three NHL titles together or the same ones who’ve been knocked out in the first round three years in a row?
That number — three — is always so important in life (which explains, of course, why there were Three Musketeers, Three Stooges, and Three Dog Night), and the Pens’ triumvirate of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang has been matched by none other in the NHL over the course of 16 straight playoff appearances.
But a Pittsburgh fan — or losing bettor — might be forgiven for asking, “What have you done for me lately, Sid, Geno, and Kris?”
This year may be the trio’s last shot at teaming for Stanley Cup stardom together, and to achieve it, the Pens have to get by a Rangers team that has won how many straight games between the two teams? Oh, yes, that would be three, naturally.
Those three victories symbolize how New York played far better than Pittsburgh in the latter part of the season, giving the Rangers (52-24-6, with 110 points) second place in the Metropolitan Division and home ice advantage over the Penguins (46-25-11, with 103 points) in the first round.
Despite momentum, home ice, and goaltending all favoring New York, the oddsmakers have the series about as even as can be. In fact, among the Pennsylvania online sportsbooks, BetMGM, FOX Bet, Betfred, and PointsBet all price the series at -110 both ways.
Others as of Monday morning gave the Rangers a slight edge to advance, with FanDuel, DraftKings, and Betway making the Rangers -115 and the Penguins -105. The various sites using Kambi odds (such as BetRivers, Unibet, and TwinSpires) listed New York -112 and Pittsburgh -110.
Pens’ Cup odds same as at season’s start
While deemed nearly equal to one another, that also means neither team is considered the kind of powerhouse likely to be still playing deep into June.
The Penguins’ Stanley Cup title odds are set at 20/1 by virtually every site, with DraftKings and Betway the exceptions using 18/1. The Rangers are mostly 16/1. (The Colorado Avalanche are the favorites, anywhere from +285 at Kambi sites to +400 at Betfred.)
Similarly, coming out atop the Eastern Conference would be a surprise, with FOX Bet and Caesars offering 10/1 odds for the Pens to do so and the Rangers generally about 8/1. (The Florida Panthers are favored, from Betfred at +200 on up to DraftKings at +275.)
The Penguins comfortably beat their preseason points total over/under, which was set around 95, but those 20/1 odds to hoist their fourth Stanley Cup since 2009 are about the same as could generally be found last fall. The team peaked at midseason and slogged after the trade deadline, when it was tied with New York for second in the division.
Crosby (31 goals, 84 points) and Malkin (20 goals and 42 points in 41 games) have again excelled on offense, but other forwards with the exception of Jake Guentzel (40 goals, 84 points) have been inconsistent in helping.
And defensively, a lower-leg injury has sidelined starting goalie Tristan Jarry for perhaps the entire series. Backup Casey DeSmith has played well since the All-Star break (8-3-3) with a .927 save percentage, but is hardly considered the equal of Igor Shesterkin, who led the NHL with a save percentage of .935.
While less experienced in postseason play after four years missing the playoffs, the Rangers have rebuilt with a young core that could set them up for years to come. Atermi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Adam Fox, who won last year’s Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, all had 74 or more points this season.
Sportsbooks have started special NHL offers
For Tuesday night’s opener at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers are generally a modest favorite. On the moneyline, a Pens backer could get +110 from various sites including DraftKings and BetRivers.
The goals over/under is set at 5.5 by the sportsbooks, with an “over” bettor best off using the +105 from Betfred or PointsBet. Those who like the under should consider DraftKings at -115, as the rest require more juice than that for a low-scoring contest.
Some of the online books are already offering special incentives for betting on the NHL playoffs, and more might show up by Tuesday.
BetRivers has posted a Penguins-centric offer: Those who wager at least $25 on them to win the Stanley Cup before the start of the playoffs receive a 25% profit boost for any NHL bet involving the first round.
FanDuel, meanwhile, advertises an NHL Futures Bonus: Bet at least $50 before the playoffs start on which team wins the Stanley Cup, and even if it fails, receive a $10 free bet for each series the team wins.
Photo: Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY