NHL playoff picks: Best bets for Saturday's return to play
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Thanks summer, it's been real. With the NHL playoffs beginning, my days enjoying the nice weather are over. For the next number of weeks I will be living on my couch, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

The fun begins at noon Saturday in Toronto, with non-stop action taking us well beyond midnight. This is incredible.

New York Rangers (+110) @ Carolina Hurricanes (-130)

It's only right to have money on the first official game in nearly five months, and it just so happens to be my favorite bet of the day. Following such a long layoff, rust and fatigue are going to play big parts early on in the NHL's return to play. Because of that, coaching and depth are going to be huge in these play-in series - the Hurricanes hold significant edges in both.

Even without the injured Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce, the Canes are both deeper and stronger on the blue line, especially after acquiring Brady Skjei - from the Rangers - and Sami Vatanen at the deadline. But the big edge here comes at forward, where Carolina has far more depth scoring.

The Canes are stacked down the middle and pose a legitimate scoring threat with their bottom six. It's an area the Rangers struggle, and are even further shorthanded in that regard with Brendan Lemieux suspended. Carolina has four players in its bottom six that registered at least 29 points this season. New York has none.

With Rod Brind'Amour scheming behind the bench, the Canes will play the matchups and slow the Rangers' top lines, capitalizing on their depth to claim a crucial Game 1 victory.

Pick: Hurricanes (-130)

Florida Panthers (-105) @ New York Islanders (-115)

While there's a lot to like about the Panthers, they're going nowhere if Sergei Bobrovsky can't figure it out. The 31-year-old is coming off the worst statistical regular season of his career, and it crippled the team. Their hopes in this series hinge on the netminder turning a corner, but a miserable outing in their exhibition game on Wednesday - allowing five goals on 34 shots - doesn't inspire much confidence.

The Islanders aren't exactly an offensive juggernaut, but they will steadily attack with all four lines and grind the Panthers down. New York is incredibly deep down the middle - Matthew Barzal, Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Casey Cizikas - and on the blue line. Barry Trotz has transformed the Isles into a defensive juggernaut, and will have them ready to expose a fundamentally flawed Panthers team in Game 1.

Pick: Islanders (-120)

(Odds source: theScore Bet)

Alex Moretto is a sports betting writer for theScore. A journalism graduate from Guelph-Humber University, he has worked in sports media for over a decade. He will bet on anything from the Super Bowl to amateur soccer, is too impatient for futures, and will never trust a kicker. Find him on Twitter @alexjmoretto.

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NHL playoff picks: Best bets for Saturday's return to play
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