There are no two better words in sports than "Game 7." Two teams fighting for their lives with one about to go through utter heartbreak and the other earning the right to keep playing. Thankfully for hockey fans, the NHL playoffs will have at least three Game 7s this weekend.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers all won Game 6 on Thursday night to keep their seasons alive. On Friday night, the New York Rangers, Dallas Stars and Washington Capitals will look to do the same. The weekend will feature at least three do-or-die games, with the potential for up to six.
Picking a winner in a game seven could be tough. The teams have fought tooth-and-nail, and for the most part, not much has separated them through six games. Which coaches will put their teams in the best position to win? Which players will rise to the occasion, and which players will wilt under the pressure? Picking a team to win might be tough, but there's been a Game 7 bet that has been very profitable over the years.
Unders are cash in Game 7s
The narratives are there for low-scoring games in a Game 7. Teams are playing cautious and reserved, knowing a mistake could end their season. However, it isn't just a narrative. It's a fact.
Since 1996, Game 7s in the NHL featuring a total of five goals or higher have gone under the total an impressive 60.6% of the time according to the Action Network. Out of 84 games in this data sample, only 28 went over the total. 43 games went under and 13 landed on the exact total, resulting in a push.
In last year's playoffs, unders went 2-1 in Game 7s. The Game 7 between Vegas and Minnesota went over in the first round, but the Game 7 between Toronto and Montreal went under. In the NHL's most recent Game 7, the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New York Islanders by a score of 1-0, an easy no sweat under for bettors.
Why does a Game 7 lend itself to lower scores? As mentioned above, teams are generally more cautious. They're less-likely to cheat in the offensive zone or take a risk up-ice, knowing an odd-man rush the other way could be the reason their team's season ends.
Also, penalties are called at a much lower clip in Game 7s. Much like players don't want to be the focal point in a bad way after a deciding game, officials feel a similar way. Referees are more likely to swallow their whistles and let the players decide the game on the ice, rather than making a call that gives a team a man advantage that could decide the game. Obviously, goals are scored at a much lower rate at 5-on-5 than they are when teams have powerplays. If more of the game is played at 5-on-5, that's a good thing for under bettors.
Will that hold true in these playoffs?
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Well, we're about to find out.
So far in the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs, if you've bet the over in every game, you have a 26-15-2 record, good for a 63.4% winning percentage. We all know this was the highest scoring regular season since 1996, and that goal scoring prowess has certainly carried over into the postseason.
After going under in Game 1, the Lightning-Maple Leafs series has featured five straight games going over the total. Over bettors are yet to lose a bet in the Carolina-Boston series, as the over is 4-0-2 in the series thus far. The Kings-Oilers series has been a bit better for under bettors, as three games have gone under and three games have gone over. Nevertheless, 50% isn't good enough if you want to be a winning bettor.
The best series for under bettors has been the Flames-Stars series, as four of the five games have gone under the total in that matchup with the lone over coming due to an empty-net goal in the literal last second. All five games in the Rangers-Penguins series have gone over the total thus far. Under bettors are 3-2 in the Florida-Washington series.
Will the 25 year playoff trend of Game 7 unders being a good bet hold up? Or is the more recent sample of this season and playoffs more relevant?
The totals have certainly been adjusted as a result of this season. In recent years, we would see a total of 5.5 goals in a Game 7. However, the total for both Tampa Bay-Toronto and Los Angeles-Edmonton is set at 6.5 goals. The total for Game 7 between the Hurricanes and Bruins is set at 6.