What was already a crazy and unpredictable year for Pennsylvania’s two NHL teams got even crazier with the league’s COVID-19 shutdown, and now?
Now, the real craziness begins.
The Penguins are heavily favored in a best-of-five series that begins Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens — on neutral ice in the Toronto “bubble” — to determine which will make it into the “normal” first round of Stanley Cup playoffs involving 16 teams.
The Flyers, meanwhile, already have a bye into the playoffs, but they play a round-robin series of games next week against the other three top Eastern Conference teams to determine playoff seeding. Those seeding games start with one Sunday afternoon vs. the Boston Bruins.
The games mark the first return to NHL action since the league joined other major sports in canceling events starting March 12 due to health and safety concerns. Similar to the NBA and MLB, the NHL is hoping to get back on track and be able to crown a season champion, only with unusual facets like no home games or spectators.
For the Flyers and Pens, their first competitive action of any kind since March was an exhibition game between them Tuesday, won by the Flyers, 3-2.
Now they have a lot more on the line starting this weekend, especially the Penguins, and Pennsylvania’s nine online sportsbooks are primed for action on the two home-state teams.
Flyers’ title odds 10/1, Pens’ 15/1
The Flyers were the hottest team in the NHL just prior to the COVID shutdown, winning nine of their last 10 games, and nearly all of the online sportsbooks Thursday listed them 10/1 to win the Stanley Cup. The exception (and the one to use for Flyers backers) was FOX Bet, which had Philadelphia 11/1.
Before the season started, the Penguins were deemed a more likely title contender than the Flyers, opening generally at 20/1 to win the cup compared to 40/1 for Philadelphia, but the roles have switched.
The Pens, while still a legitimate contender with their lineup of veteran stars, are now listed at 15/1 by most of the sites — which is the best price you can get legally if you think they’ll win their third title in five years.
The sportsbooks list the Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning as the two favorites to win the Stanley Cup, at either 6/1 or +650. Likewise, they are the Eastern Conference favorites, both at 3/1 across the board.
The Flyers’ conference title odds range from 5/1 to 6/1, with that latter price available from both FOX Bet and Caesars.
The Penguins are priced between 7/1 and 9/1 to win the conference, with the most favorable payout coming from either FOX Bet or FanDuel.
Pens’ vets favored over Montreal’s youngsters
The Penguins are among eight teams competing in Toronto for the four still-to-be-decided Eastern playoff spots, and as the No. 5 seed, they had the best record among those when the regular season stopped. But that record also included losses in seven of their last 10 games.
The Pens are healthier now, though, most notably getting back high-scoring forward Jake Guentzel, injured in December and lost for the entire season in any normal year.
They face a Montreal team that is the lowest seed in Toronto and far younger and less experienced in the playoffs. Considering that, Pittsburgh has been deemed a -235 favorite to win the best-of-5 series by sites using Kambi odds, such as DraftKings, Unibet, and BetRivers. FOX Bet is the one site offering a better price than that, -200, to bet on Sidney Crosby & Co.
For Saturday’s opening game, the Pens are favored anywhere from -162 (at DraftKings, which has the best price to bet them) to -175 (FOX Bet).
Flyers hope to pick up where they left off
The Flyers seemed like nothing special to start the season — perhaps even headed for another playoff absence like in 2018-19 — and then jelled early this calendar year in the new system of head coach Alain Vigneault.
When the season abruptly halted, they were hot on the heels of the Washington Capitals, just 1 point behind in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 41-21-7.
For the time being, they’re seeded fourth in the East behind the Bruins, Lightning, and Caps, but that could change based on the outcome of the round-robin series that starts Sunday. After that opener, the Flyers play Washington Thursday and Tampa Bay Saturday.
All of the games, again, are in Toronto, where the players’ living arrangements are restricted with the intent of minimizing risk that any will contract COVID-19.
Philadelphia is an underdog in Sunday afternoon’s opening game, with the best price of +115 coming via FanDuel. DraftKings has them +112 and other sites +110.
The special promotions have begun
To mark the NHL’s return, various sportsbook sites are offering special hockey wagering deals to entice bettors.
FanDuel has a “Stanley Cup Win Bonus”: Place a $50 futures wager on any team to win the cup, and you receive $10 in bonus money to bet with for each win accumulated in that team’s first five playoff games.
At DraftKings, bet at least $50 on the winner of a playoff series, and you will receive a $5 free bet for each goal that team scores in the series.
At BetAmerica, if you make a successful $50 pre-game bet you will be additionally rewarded with $10 in bonus funds for online casino use.
As it’s only Thursday, it’s good to check back on all of the sites by the weekend to see what other bonuses or odds boosts may be offered. In many cases, they offer special incentives tied to the Pennsylvania teams, making it the one time where it’s advantageous to bet as a “homer.”
Photo provided by Mark Blinch / USA Today Sports