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The 2021-22 NHL regular season is just about in the books. The 16-team playoff field is set and only a few teams have something left to play for over the final two nights of the campaign. These next two nights will almost resemble preseason hockey, which means that we’ll likely see coaches of playoff-bound teams err on the side of caution when it comes to building their lineup for Thursday night.
With that being the case, bettors should tread lightly when it comes to betting big favorites. In fact, this one of the best times to go the other way, and target some big prices on teams that are not going to the postseason. If you think of it from a narrative point of view, those teams that are playing out the string will want to play hard for their final few games and go into the offseason feeling good about themselves. Meanwhile, the teams heading to the tournament next week will want to just get out of the rink in one piece, for the most part.
The numbers over the past five “normal seasons” (not including 2019-20, 2020-21), underdogs who closed +200 or longer are 21-42 in their final five games of the regular season. That’s just a 33.3% win rate, but if you bet $100 on each of those dogs, you’d be up $949 for a 15.1% ROI in that span (per Action Labs).
There are a few games on Thursday’s NHL slate that fit this bill:
- Buffalo Sabres (+260) at Boston Bruins (-330)
- New Jersey Devils (+215) at Carolina Hurricanes (-270)
- Tampa Bay Lightning (-270) at Columbus Blue Jackets (+215)
- San Jose Sharks (+255) at Edmonton Oilers (-330)
- Nashville Predators (+220) at Colorado Avalanche (-275)
Of those five matchups, the two that stick out the most are the Devils and Sharks. While Boston, Tampa Bay, and Colorado still have something left to play for, the Hurricanes and Oilers both have nothing to gain from winning on Thursday night.
While the Devils have been an absolute mess defensively for much of the past few months, they have tightened things up over the last two weeks. In their last 10 games, New Jersey is only allowing 9.66 high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, which is the fifth-best mark in the NHL over that sample size. Going up against a Hurricanes offense that should be resting some key players in a meaningless game, the Devils do have a path to success here and the number is in range considering the extenuating circumstances.
It’s a similar situation for the Sharks, who should have the luxury of playing against Edmonton’s No. 2 goalie, Mikko Koskinen, instead of the red-hot Mike Smith on Thursday night. It would also not be surprising to see Edmonton rest superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl for this game and if/when that lineup news comes out, this number will drop quickly.