Changing Handicapping Strategies in the NHL Playoffs

Written by:
Don Shapiro
Published on:

Handicapping strategies in the NHL have to be on point. The NHL playoffs are the toughest postseason test in all of sports, and sports bettors need to know this. Bettors cannot simply utilize their regular season betting strategy and assume they will have success. 

Key Points 

– There is much more public action on NHL playoff games than regular season games. 

– Handicapping strategies for the NHL playoffs have to change if bettors want success. 


Betting the NHL Playoffs 

Players engage in brutally intense game play for two months. In the end, the Stanley Cup winner has definitely earned it.  

While the Stanley Cup playoffs are tough on the players, it can be equally stressful for NHL bettors. The playoffs demand a change in handicapping strategies from the regular season. 

Bettors that attempt to wager on the postseason the same way they did throughout the regular season often find themselves losing big. NHL handicappers need to take into account a number of different factors and evaluate them differently in the postseason. 

More Public Action 

Compared to the regular season, there is more public betting action at sportsbooks during the NHL playoffs. The action intensifies as the playoffs go on a game-by-game basis as well.  

This is true for a few significant reasons. Every time the postseason begins, the level of excitement rises. This attracts casual fans to the sport in a way that they aren't during the regular season.  

Since the regular season has already ended for nearly half of the teams in the league, there are also fewer games available in the playoffs than during the regular season. The average bet size is higher in the playoffs. With fewer games, bettors can use the same bankroll but will wager more on individual bets.  

Every time there is more public interest in a game, you need to be aware of how the public is betting and the effects on lines' and odds. If you enjoy betting on favorites as an NHL handicapper, you'll probably need to look even harder for value in the postseason than you do during the regular season.

Multiple Games, Same Opponent 

Each series in the NHL playoffs is a best-of-seven games. That means teams will play multiple games - at least four - against the same opponent. This is rare during the regular season. 

Playoff handicapping strategies must account for this. Every other night during the Stanley Cup playoffs, the same teams play each other. This has a number of significant effects. These include becoming more familiar with the tendencies and weaknesses of their rivals.  

NHL goaltenders get to know shooters up close. Teams learn their opponent’s power play and penalty kill strategies. Tensions escalate too as players face the same opponents over and over. 

The teams with more depth and better coaches typically win more games in the NHL playoffs. Sports bettors should carefully consider the implications of playing multiple games against the same opponent. 

Playoff Handicapping Strategies - Playing Style 

Playoff hockey differs significantly from regular season hockey. Games are faster, less physical, and less penalized than during the regular season. Goaltending is frequently more effective.  

The teams that were the best during the regular season aren’t always the best when the postseason comes around. It's crucial for gamblers to understand these variations and consider new handicapping strategies for the playoffs. 

A lower seeded team frequently has success in the playoffs due to its capacity to play a more effective brand of hockey. On the other hand, being unprepared for playoff hockey has derailed more than one high seed over the years. 


Stamina Affects Handicapping Strategies 

The NHL playoffs are brutal and long. Teams have already played an 82-game regular season. If a team is lucky, they can sweep an opponent or win 4-1 in a first-round series. 

Teams that win a series quickly will get the benefit of some nice downtime. If teams play longer series - 4-2 or 4-3 - the pace is just relentless. Players have been playing hockey since October.  

Teams will struggle with stamina because of injuries or the fact that they may have some older players. Older players don’t recover as quickly. That can create some issues in the postseason.  

Teams that have strong depth, especially young depth, tend to do well in the NHL playoffs. Hockey teams with fewer stamina issues will have an advantage over their opponents. Bettors should know this. 

Experience Influences Handicapping Strategies 

Very good hockey teams often struggle in the Stanley Cup playoffs due to a lack of experience. Once they gain that experience, they become really dangerous. Winning playoff series takes a number of things. 

Take teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins as an example. The Penguins are a perennial playoff team and most of their roster has been involved in winning several playoff series. You can see how that experience pays off by looking at past playoff performances. 

Teams that don’t have a lot of playoff experience often find themselves on the losing end of games that they were expected to win. Experience is a much bigger factor in the postseason than it is in the regular season. Savvy NHL handicappers are aware of this. 

No Such Thing As a Mismatch 

As knowledgeable NHL bettors are aware, there is at least one mismatch almost every day during the regular hockey season. In the NHL, there are some bad teams that find it difficult to compete with the top teams.  

In the postseason, that is not the case. There are no mismatches. You can see that reflected in NHL futures odds. Any team can beat any other team in the NHL playoffs. Every single playoff series has the potential to be very competitive. Your NHL playoff handicapping strategies need to reflect this. 

- Don Shapiro,

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