Sports bettors need to understand that the NHL playoffs are the most grueling postseason test in sports. For two months players play brutally intense games. The team that wins the Stanley Cup has unquestionably earned it. For bettors the Stanley Cup playoffs aren’t as grueling, but they can be intense, and they are certainly exciting. From a betting perspective the playoffs require a shift in thinking from the regular season as well. If bettors try to bet the playoffs like they would the regular season then they are not going to get the results they hope to. NHL handicappers need to consider these six ways in which the postseason in the NHL is different from the regular season:
More public action – Public betting action is heavier in the NHL playoffs than it is in the regular hockey season. On a game by game basis the action gets heavier as the playoffs progress as well. There are a couple of big reasons why this is. The excitement level intensifies whenever the postseason starts, so casual fans of the sport are drawn to the sport in a way that they aren’t in the middle of the long regular season. There are also fewer games to choose from in the playoffs than in the regular season since the season has already ended for almost half of the teams in the league. When there are fewer games bettors don’t tend to divide their bankroll up as much, so the average bet size is higher than in the regular season. Whenever the public action is higher on a game you need to be aware of how the public is betting, and what impact that is having on how the lines are set and how they move. In short, if as a NHL handicapper you like betting favorites then you’ll likely have to look even harder for value in the postseason than you do during the regular season.
Multiple games with same opponents – Every so often during the regular season you will see home and home series. For the most part, though, teams will go weeks or months between meetings. In the Stanley Cup playoffs they play each other every second night. That has several big impacts – teams get more familiar with the tendencies and weaknesses of their opponents, goaltenders get to see shooters up close to get to know them, rivalries and tensions can heat up, and so on. Multiple games tend to favor the better coaches and the deeper teams. Sports bettors need to really think about what this means to the dynamics of the games.
Shifts in style of play – Playoff hockey doesn’t really look like regular season hockey. It’s faster, there are fewer penalties, and games are more physical but not in a cheap way like can happen during the regular season. Goaltending is often better as well. Because playoff hockey is different the teams that were the best during the regular season aren’t necessarily going to be the best at the new style of play.It’s important for bettors to understand the differences, and to look to see how well a team may be able to adapt. The ability to lay a style of hockey that better suits the team is often the reason why a lower seeded team makes a big run in the playoffs. Conversely, being unsuited to playoff hockey has stopped more than one high seed in their tracks.
Stamina factors – The NHL playoffs are brutal. There can be some nice rest if you win series quickly, but if you are playing longer series then the pace can just be unrelenting. By the time the playoffs start teams have already played 82 regular season games. Every player is banged up and sore, and injuries are a factor for every team in the league. Teams that have issues with stamina due to injuries or age are going to be in real trouble in the playoffs. Their problems are only going to get worse, and hockey teams with fewer stamina issues are going to have an edge beyond what they would normally have.
Experience – Time and again we see very good hockey teams struggle in the Stanley Cup playoffs because they lack experience. Once they get that experience then they are really dangerous the next year. Pittsburgh and Chicago are two recent Stanley Cup champions who needed to lose in the playoffs in order to learn how to win. If a team doesn’t have a lot of experience in dealing with the playoffs – either as an organization, or individually in the dressing room – then they won’t know what to expect or how to get prepared, and they can fail to live up to their potential. Savvy NHL handicappers understand that experience is a dramatically bigger factor in the postseason than it is in the regular season.
No real mismatches – As experienced NHL bettors know, in the regular hockey season there is at least one mismatch almost every day. There are some really bad teams in the NHL, and those teams really struggle to play against the really good team that are out there. It’s hard to make the playoffs in the NHL, though, so every team that makes the playoffs has shown at least some competence and effectiveness. In the NBA it can be easy to see that there are real mismatches in the opening round – a series in which it would be a miracle if the lower seeded team even won a game. That’s just not the case in the NHL. Every series is potentially competitive. If you are seeing a massive mismatch then chances are in your NHL handicapping you aren’t giving one team enough credit.