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NHL playoff series odds: Rangers -115/Penguins -105

Odds provided by BetMGM

There were likely some raised eyebrows when the betting odds for this series came out. Given the way these two teams entered the playoffs, the edge the Rangers have in goal, the way the season series shook out, and the fact that the Blueshirts have home-ice advantage, most folks assumed that New York would be favored in this series.

That wasn’t the case, however, as Pittsburgh opened as -120 favorites before the Rangers took some money to make it a true pick’em. The fact that this series is a pick’em with New York’s home-ice advantage means that the betting market views Pittsburgh as the stronger team in a vacuum. That is a notion that plenty of people will debate as this series gets underway.

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Rangers vs. Penguins playoff series preview

For the first half of the season, the Rangers were viewed as a bit of a paper tiger. The Blueshirts posted middling numbers at 5-on-5 and the defense was leaky, but Igor Shesterkin played at an all-world level in goal and won the Rangers plenty of points on his own. Shesterkin, who is a shoo-in for the Vezina Trophy this season, led the NHL with a .935 save percentage and a +37.2 Goals Saved Above Expected in 53 games this season. As a team, the Rangers finished second in the NHL with a 2.52 goals-against average, but the fact that they were even that high considering their defensive issues in the first half is a testament to Shesterkin’s play.

Shesterkin’s play-in goal is the key to this series. If he plays like he did for most of the season, the Penguins are in trouble. But if he’s a level or two below that, the paths to victory start to open up for Pittsburgh.

That’s because the Penguins were the better team at 5-on-5 this season. While the Rangers finished 20th in the NHL in goals scored at 5-on-5 and only had a +10 goal differential at 5-on-5, Pittsburgh finished 12th in 5-on-5 goals scored and boasted a +27 goal differential at evens.

Part of Pittsburgh’s robust goal differential at 5-on-5 is due to Tristan Jarry’s superlative first half in goal and Jarry is out for this series, but that may not be as big a concern as it will be made out to be by members of the media. While Jarry posted stronger numbers than Casey DeSmith overall this season, DeSmith has been in form for quite a while now. Since Feb. 1, DeSmith has skated to a .927 save percentage and a +5.37 GSAx.

Penguins Rangers series
Sidney Crosby
NHLI via Getty Images

Those numbers aren’t near where Shesterkin’s are, but that kind of goaltending gives Pittsburgh a chance in this series. Nobody will ask DeSmith to outplay Shesterkin, but rather just keep Pittsburgh in the series long enough to let their 5-on-5 advantage make a difference.

And Pittsburgh will need to win the 5-on-5 battle to have a chance in this best-of-7. The Penguins’ third-ranked penalty kill should help mute New York’s fourth-ranked power play, but Pittsburgh’s PP struggled for consistency this season and finished in the bottom third of the circuit.

The Rangers have steadily improved throughout this season and took care of the Penguins handily in the season series, but bookmakers view this best-of-7 series as a virtual coin flip. On the surface, that may not jive with most folks who expected the Blueshirts to be the favorite, but a look under the surface shows that the margins in this series are razor tight.

Rangers/Penguins betting prediction: Pass

Source: NYPOST

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