The NHL season is in its last four days and the playoff picture is clearing up rapidly. One of the most exciting postseasons in any sport is the NHL playoffs. Below is a preview of what to expect and who to bet on as the NHL playoffs get underway. One brief note: every year a goalie will get unexpectedly hot and carry a team for a few series. Accurately guessing who will break out in a big way can be highly profitable.

Don’t waste your money

That being said, the bottom teams in the Eastern Conference are not worth a gamble. The three wild card hopefuls are Florida, Philadelphia, and New Jersey. All three are roughly a 20:1 underdog to win the conference, but there are better places to look to gamble.

Going out on a limb a bit, avoiding the Vegas Golden Knights seems prudent. The “Vegas Flu” should not hurt visiting teams nearly as much due to the seriousness and focus during the playoffs, and the Vegas-based gamblers have artificially reduced the Knights odds past where they should be. Vegas should not be a 3:1 favorite for the conference or a 13:2 to win it all, but more like 4:1 and 15:2 respectively.

Throwing a dart

Minnesota, Colorado, Anaheim and Los Angeles all have either stud goalies (Minnesota, Anaheim and LA) or a high flying offense (Colorado) that could definitely win a series or two. Whoever ends up matched with Vegas will likely have a big positive series price somewhere around +230, and is absolutely worth a look. If the season ended today, Anaheim would be a nice underdog to bet on in the first round against the Knights. Of the four teams listed above, Minnesota is the long shot with the best chance to make a run.

Analyzing the favorites

Some NHL bettors view the Winnipeg Jets as the best team in the Western Conference, making them worthy of a bet to win the Cup at 8:1 and the conference at 4:1. Similarly, the Predators are a well-balanced, veteran team with home ice. Taking them at 5:1 and 5:2 in the same two bets makes sense to me.

The Eastern Conference has so many top teams in Tampa, Boston, Pittsburgh, and even Toronto that grabbing Pittsburgh at 3:1 to win the East or Tampa at 5:2 just does not have the value that is present out West.

Best Bets

It is hard to believe, but we have made it this far without even mentioning the Washington Capitals. They seem to underperform every April, but it would not be terribly surprising if they made some noise this postseason. They are worth a look at 6:1. The San Jose Sharks look rejuvenated since acquiring Evander Kane and now have all of the pieces you would look for when evaluating a team looking to make a run. They have a veteran team with playoff experience, a strong home ice advantage, solid goaltending and a top defensive unit led by Brent Burns. At 9:1 to win the conference, they are a good bet, and a great hedge opportunity at 20:1 to win the Stanley Cup.

Running the Eastern Conference gauntlet will be incredibly difficult for a team like the Columbus Blue Jackets, but at least a bunch of the teams will knock one another out. In the first round they are likely to draw a seemingly tired Pittsburgh team and have the type of goalie that could carry a team. Columbus is about a 12:1 underdog to win the East and 25:1 for the Cup.

Summary: The best places to look for value when betting the NHL playoffs are the Vegas Knights first round opponent in that series only, Minnesota, Washington, San Jose and Columbus. If you prefer to play it more safely, look to Nashville or Winnipeg.