NHL Playoff Trends: ‘Over’ Bettors Clean Up In First Round

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Nicholas Paul celebrates scoring a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period of game seven of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on May 14, 2022.
Image Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The opening round of the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs was as exhilarating as it was illogical. Exhilarating because 51 games were played across eight series — five of which went the distance, with two others going six games. Illogical because the 16 participating teams combined to score 328 goals.

That adage about playoff teams tightening up defensively and taking fewer chances on offense in hopes of grinding out low-scoring victories? Chuck it out the window. At least this year. At least in the first round.

With the conference semifinals set to get underway Tuesday, let’s skate down Memory Lane and ruminate on some NHL playoff trends that bubbled to the surface over 14 crazy days in Round 1.

What The Puck Is Going On? 

Carolina Hurricanes center Seth Jarvis (right) celebrates his goal with teammate Vincent Trocheck (left) against the Boston Bruins during a 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs game
Image Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The proceedings started innocently enough with a four-game slate on May 2. That night, two home favorites won, two road underdogs won, two games went Over the total, two games stayed Under the total. Cumulative goals produced in that quartet of contests: 4, 5, 6 and 7.

When Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau put his team’s 67th and final shot into the net for a 3-2, Game 7 overtime victory over the Dallas Stars late Sunday night, the wild first-round ride was finally over. And by wild, we mean this:

  • An average of just under 6.3 goals per game were scored
  • 38 of the 51 games featured at least six goals
  • The teams combined for 29 empty-net goals (8.8 percent of the total tallies)

As you might imagine, all that scoring put a lot of money in the pockets of Over bettors. The Over cashed at a 62.8% clip in Round 1 (32-17-2). In the final 31 games played from May 7 through Sunday, the Over connected at a 71% rate (22-7-2).

The Calgary-Dallas matchup was the only low-scoring series of the bunch, going 4-2-1 to the Under. Which means exactly two-thirds of the games in every other series (30 of 45) sailed Over the total.

Also, if you remove the Flames-Stars series, 36 of 44 games — a whopping 81.8% — finished with at least six goals.

So Close, Yet So Far

Gabriel Landeskog #92 of the Colorado Avalanche awaits a face off against the Boston Bruins at Ball Arena on January 26, 2022 in Denver, CO.
Image Credit: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

Among other interesting NHL playoff trends from the opening round: Only 13 of 51 games — including just nine of the first 46 — were decided by one goal.

Wait, didn’t you use the word “exhilarating” to describe Round 1?

Indeed. And we also noted that Round 1 produced an astounding 29 empty-net goals, turning games that were competitive for the first 56-plus minutes into multi-goal results. Is this just a fluky trend that will reverse course as the postseason continues? Perhaps. But it’s certainly worth mentioning that last year’s playoffs saw 30 empty-netters across the entire playoffs (84 games). 

Even if empty-net goals stop coming in bunches, there are reasons to believe plenty of biscuits will continue to find the basket in the conference semifinals (and perhaps beyond). For starters, the top four power-play teams — in order, Colorado, Edmonton, New York Rangers and St. Louis — are all still alive.

Also, three other clubs that had top-10 power plays in the regular season — Florida (5th), Tampa Bay (8th) and Calgary (10th) — figure to be much more proficient with the man advantage moving forward than they were in the opening round. The Lightning converted 7 of 33 power-play chances in their seven-game series win over Toronto, while the Panthers (0-for-18) and Flames (2-for-24) were a dismal 2-for-42.

Carolina’s power-play unit, which converted at a so-so 21.98% in the regular season, also was inept in the first round (5-for-36, 13.89%).

Keep this in mind, too: Colorado had the eighth-most goals scored in Round 1, despite only playing four games (sweeping out Nashville). The lethal Avs draw the St. Louis Blues in the second round. In three regular-season meetings, these teams combined for 8, 7 and 8 goals.

Money In The Bank

St. Louis Blues defenseman Calle Rosen eyes the puck as it floats through the air during Game 2 of a Stanley Cup Playoff game against the Minnesota Wild
Image Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of the Blues, they delivered the best bang for the betting buck in the opening round. St. Louis was an underdog in three of its four wins against the Minnesota Wild and produced +2.41 units of profit. That means if you wagered $100 on the Blues in all six of their games against Minnesota, you cleared $241.

Of the squads remaining in the tournament, Colorado (+1.54 units) and Tampa Bay (+0.89 units) were solidly profitable. Carolina (+0.21) and Florida (+0.06) also finished in the black, albeit barely.

The other three survivors — the Rangers (-0.06), Oilers (-0.52) and Flames (-0.81) — enter the second round under water.

Interestingly, Edmonton and Calgary will oppose one another in a second-round, all-Canadian showdown. It’s a compelling matchup from an NHL playoff trends perspective in this regard: Edmonton scored the third-most goals in the opening round (27); Calgary gave up the fewest (14). Also, the Oilers had the second-best power play (7-for-19, 36.84%); the Flames tied first-round opponent Dallas for the second-best penalty kill (2-for-24, 91.67%).