Entering the 2021-22 season, most viewed the New York Rangers as a team that could take the step from rebuilding to playoff contenders. However, they far surpassed most expectations and finished the season second in their division, fourth in the Eastern Conference and seventh in the league. The tremendous regular season earned them a first round playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, a series that oddsmakers set as a virtual pick'em prior to Game 1.
However, in Game 5 on Thursday, the Rangers will face elimination. The Rangers are slight -135 home favorites to stave off elimination and avoid being the second team eliminated from the postseason. The teams split the first two games at Madison Square Garden before Pittsburgh scored 14 goals in two games in the Steel City. With the Rangers facing elimination, it appears sportsbooks might be rooting for them to go home.
Rangers were a popular bet before the series
Entering the first round of the playoffs, the New York Rangers were the most popular bet of any of the sixteen teams to advance to the second round. There was more betting action backing the Blueshirts than there was on even the Colorado Avalanche.
On May 2nd, 88% of bets and 95% of the money was backing New York to eliminate Pittsburgh in the opening round. The Rangers were -110 to advance, making the series a virtual pick'em. The only teams to receive a similar amount of betting action were the Avalanche, Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames, the three current top Cup favorites and three massive favorites in the first round. However, the Rangers got more action than any of those teams.
The Rangers love made sense. They were the better team during the regular season, and in the process, they earned home-ice advantage in this series, which could make a massive difference in a series everyone projected to be extremely tight. The Rangers added at the trade deadline, and the likes of Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano were making an impact in New York's lineup. Their underlying metrics were much improved since the deadline.
However, the main reason people loved the Rangers before this series was the expected mismatch between the pipes. Igor Shesterkin will almost certainly win the Vezina Trophy, given to the league's best goalie during the regular season. On the other side, Pittsburgh started the series without usual No. 1 goaltender Tristan Jarry. In double overtime of Game 1, they lost backup Casey DeSmith to an injury that will keep him out for the rest of the playoffs. Enter Louis Domingue, the journeyman 30-year old third string goaltender who had played just four NHL games over the past three seasons.
Pittsburgh has been the better team in every game of this series except Game 2. However, you'd think Shesterkin would be able to bridge that gap for the Rangers. Not quite. The league's best goaltender from the regular season has been pulled in back-to-back games and has a goals against average of 4.26, the highest of any goalie in the playoffs who has started a game. With Shesterkin not playing up to par and being unable to bail out his team like he did all season long, the Rangers now must win three straight elimination games.
Long term liability on the Rangers as well
Not only were bettors lining up to back the Rangers before this series, but they've been backing the Blueshirts all season long at BetMGM.
The Rangers are the third biggest liability in the Stanley Cup futures market at BetMGM. The Rangers have received 7.3% of the money bet this season. Only Colorado and Florida have received more action backing them to hoist the Stanley Cup. The Rangers are currently 35-to-1 to win the Cup. They opened the playoffs at 16-to-1.
No team has received more betting love to win the Eastern Conference than the Rangers. Over 24% of bets and nearly 27% of the money is backing New York to represent the conference in the Stanley Cup Final. Florida has received the second most action, getting 17% of bets and 21% of the betting handle. The Rangers are 22-to-1 to win the East. Florida is the current favorite at +270.
The Rangers have been getting betting love all season long from bettors, and oddsmakers are surely rooting against them. They would probably love to see the Rangers get bounced on Wednesday night to free them of the liability.
All Rangers bets will be graded as losers if they don't win on Wednesday. Currently, the Rangers are -135 favorites to win Game 5 and extend their season. Unsurprisingly, bettors seem like they're willing to go down with the ship as 75% of the money is backing New York to force a Game 6.