As fans and sports bettors know, every team in the NHL plays every other team at least once in the regular season, so teams that meet in the Stanley Cup finals are not total strangers. When people are trying to handicap the finals, those regular season meetings are something they are inevitably going to look at. They can be a valuable insight into how the series can turn out. Unfortunately, they can also be very misleading and costly if you don’t approach them properly. Here are five factors for NHL handicappers to keep in mind when looking at regular season meetings between Stanley Cup finals foes and before you make your sports picks:
What happened? – This is the obvious starting point. NHL bettors want to look not just at the results on the scoreboard, but also what actually happened on the ice. You can look at the boxscore or for reports on the game in newspapers or on websites for more insight. How was the game played? Did one team have a clear edge throughout, or was the game close? Was there one or more players that significantly impacted the outcome? Did one team have a clear edge in terms of speed, physicality, or size? The posted betting odds for the game can tell a lot about what was expected. If one team was heavily favored in the game and won then you know that at that time one team was clearly seen to be superior. If the odds in these playoff games aren’t similar to what they were in the regular season then you potentially have an insight that things have changed.
Was there a consistent reason for results? – Each hockey team in the NHL plays three teams in the opposite conference twice per year, while playing the others just once. If these two opponents have played twice already then there can be particularly valuable insights to be drawn. If the result was essentially the same in both games – the same team won by exploiting the same weaknesses with the same strengths – then that could be a good sign of what is likely to occur when the two teams meet in the finals. If the two games had very different outcomes, with one team dominating one game while losing badly in the other – then that requires that sports bettors take a closer look and give more consideration as to what happened and why.
Has the team’s performance changed in the playoffs? – Sometimes a hockey team gets to the finals by playing essentially the same style of game that they played through the playoffs. This is particularly likely if the team was dominant in the regular season. Often times though, we see teams that find their confidence and play at a whole new level in the playoffs. They could be more offensive or more defensive, or they could have better goaltending. If the NHL team has made a big positive change in their play then what happened in the regular season between the teams obviously isn’t particularly relevant, and could be misleading if handicappers pay too much attention to it.
What has changed since? – Even if the style of play hasn’t changed seen a drastic change for either team, NHL handicappers need to look at what has changed for the teams since they last met. Has the coaching staff changed for either squad? Are they playing the same goalie now as when they played the previous game? Have the lines been shuffled significantly? Are any players hurt and out of action that played before? How about players back in action that were hurt then? Has a young player grown into a role and become a much more valuable player?
When did they play? – The bigger the gap in time between the last meeting and the start of the playoffs the less relevance sports bettors can expect from what happened before. The more time that has passed the more likely it is that teams have matured, changed, and evolved, and don’t closely resemble the teams that played before. NHL handicappers also need to consider when the game occurred in the schedules of both teams. Was one hockey team late in a long road trip? That could affect their intensity or focus – especially if it comes on the second night in a row of play. Had one team just played against an important divisional opponent, or did they have a big game that they could have been looking ahead to? Did both teams still have a lot to play for, or was one or both relatively secure in their playoff position and perhaps not as motivated as a result?