NHL playoffs betting guide: Maple Leafs vs. Lightning

Justin Cuthbert breaks down the first-round matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Video Transcript

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Let's begin. With the most fascinating series of round one, and that's none other than the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning. They meet in the first round with really it all on the line. You've got the defending two-time Stanley Cup champions, and of course, the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are as desperate as any team for a single series victory.

Now, a disclaimer before I get into the bets, I'm going to be covering this series for Yahoo Sports, so please follow along, but I will, for that reason, refrain from betting it. It's probably a good thing, though because I don't feel confident either way. I mean, how could you feel confident either way?

At my book right now, the Leafs minus 130 favorites, the Lightning come back at plus 106 just to advance. On the series spread, which is minus 1.5 the Leafs are plus 176 to win in six games or less, and the return on that for the Lightning is minus 220.

If I had to bet any of the lines that I just mentioned, it's probably the plus money on Tampa Bay. This is a team that has won its last eight series, including two Stanley Cup Finals, while Toronto is 0 and 5 in its last five series with its current core, Lightning also just smashed the Leafs in the regular season, so I think that's worth at least considering, But I feel like I've got to get a little bit more granular on this one. Because I see this series playing out one of two ways, and I think, really, they're kind of extreme outcomes.

I think it's possible that the Leafs have an edge early in this series. In Montreal, or against Montreal last year, I guess it was different scenarios, but Sheldon Keefe had a really strong game plan. That was a motivated group, they went after it, and they played really well to start before it slipped away. This team is obviously very desperate. It understands the stakes. It understands how good the opponent is.

So can they win the first two at home? Maybe take one on the road and then force the Lightning to decide after two, long, grueling seasons in which they went 25 games or whatever it took for them to win the Stanley Cup both times. Do you make them or provide them with the choice to dig in or not? So if the Leafs do get off to a hot start, I think Leafs in 5 at plus 570 is a reasonable proposition.

The other scenario that I see playing out is the Lightning taking over late. This team is unbelievable in one-off, do-or-die games, while Toronto, if it gets to a game 7, I'm sure they will be gripping the twigs very, very tight in that scenario. So the Lightning in 7 is almost as good as the Leafs at 5, which is interesting to me at plus 520. Lightning in 7 at plus 520. I think that's my favorite of all the bets mentioned, but I think you could play both and hope to come out on top on the other end or either end of two extreme outcomes.

The Leafs on the alternate spread, if you could get them at minus 2.5, I would just play the 5, I think that's better, and the lightning at 7. Those are the two options. Those are the two ways I would go because gambling is supposed to make things more fun. I don't think it's got to be-- anything could make this series more entertaining unless you got a lot of money in the lineup. I'm contradicting myself. But either way, it's going to be a spectacular series, whether you have money on it or not.

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