The NHL regular season is finally over and we’re headed for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Eight teams from both conferences have the privilege to head to post-season, while the other 15 teams are done for the season. It’s been a season full of surprises, some positive and some not so positive. Especially in the Western conference it was kind of a topsy-turvy regular season.
Accuscore’s pre-season predictions had an okay hitrate with a nice profit. If only 10/16 playoff teams were correct in the forecast, the point totals and win totals were overall in the positive (17-13 & 16-15) and the special picks hit their target with great success with 7-4. You can find the more detailed review here.
Newcomers Vegas took everyone by surprise and kept their excellent form from start to finish, without bigger slip-ups on the way. The Golden Knights ended up winning the Pacific division and breaking pretty much every record ever set by any expansion team – the good ones anyway. With the positive surprises, there must always be negatives as well. This time in the West it was Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks. All the teams started the season as contenders, or at least certain playoff-bound teams, but ended up in an absolute mess missing the playoffs. Whole trio were on top nine to win the Stanley Cup according to pre-season odds and top-5 in the West.
In the East it was much closer to anticipated, with the usual top teams doing exactly what was expected - with an addition of Boston Bruins making a case for themselves, being only rated 8th in the East by Vegas pre-season Stanley Cup odds. Rangers and Canadiens fell hard and New Jersey rose to the occasion, while Penguins, Capitals, Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs stood their ground.
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Without further ado, here’s how the Accuscore simulation engine is predicting the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2017/2018 to unravel:
Accuscore Analysis - 1st round
As the bracket shows us, it’s likely we’ll have a couple of surprises in the first round already. Only Tampa Bay stands out in all possible scenarios and they’re by far the biggest favorites for the Cup this year. In the west it looks like Nashville will make another push for the finals, but end up runners up once again. It’s a lot closer that side of the bracket though and the margins are especially small in the conference semi-final phase onwards.
In the West, the Vegas Golden Knights keep on rolling and are likely to knock out Los Angeles Kings. The pair was all even during the regular season and two games went to overtime. While the Kings have perhaps the better suited team for playoffs, the Knights are ready to surprise once again and have nothing to lose. Vegas are surprisingly clear favorites, with 62.7% likelihood to progress.
The top two teams, Predators and Jets, should be able to mow over their counterparts Colorado and Minnesota rather easily, making it an even matchup in the conference semi-finals. Predators move on with 64.3% likelihood while Jets progress with even more impressive 74.4% probability.
Anaheim Ducks are likely to overcome their divisional and almost local rivals San Jose Sharks, but only after hard-fought seven game series. While San Jose bested the Ducks in regular season series with two overtime wins and one regular time win against one overtime win, the Sharks lost five of their last six games in the regular season and didn’t look too good heading to the playoffs. The Ducks progress with 59.1% probability.
Rather interestingly the biggest surprises of the playoffs come from the Eastern conference – which was the more predictable conference in the regular season. Apart from Tampa Bay’s domination – they are 83.7% favorites to beat the Devils – the winners in the east are less than 60% probable to progress.
The Bruins exceeded expectations in the regular season and looked unstoppable at times. However, Toronto took the season series three wins to one and might be in for a surprise. In the simulations Toronto is more likely to snatch a road win than Boston and that’ll do for 50.7% probability to progress for the Maple Leafs. It is extremely close though and should be an interesting matchup.
Another surprise is expected to take place in the nation’s capital. It’s a very close matchup, but in Accuscore simulations it is the Blue Jackets who are likely to take the Capitals by surprise. Jackets have gradually became better and better and they already made a case last year during the regular season, but were stopped by Stanley Cup winning Penguins in the first round. This time they have a better chance against the Capitals, who - despite of having another great regular season behind them - are not as good team as they’ve been in the past. The BJ’s upset the Capitals with 51.6% probability.
Last but not least we have the Battle of Pennsylvania, where double champions Penguins host the Flyers. Usually there would be a lot of fire and brimstone between the two, but it seems like the biggest hatred between the teams is gone and both are likely to concentrate on winning – unlike a couple of years ago. The Penguins have the upper hand, but it might not be such a slam-dunk many expect. In simulations the Penguins progress with 57.5% probability.
As stated before, Tampa Bay is the single biggest favorite to win the Cup according to the simulations. There’s a small challenge put forward by the Penguins, but this seems to be the Lightning’s year. In the west, Nashville will have to overcome Jets in order to reach the conference finals and it doesn’t get much easier weather it’s the Ducks, Golden Knights, Kings or Sharks up next. Predators, however, are the favorites to reach the finals from the west. Here are the probabilities for winning the cup as compared to best available odds at the time and relative percentages.
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