The NHL’s second season gets underway next week as the top eight teams from both the Eastern and Western Conference begin their quest to hoist the Stanley Cup as this season’s champions. While the final postseason field and first-round matchups will not be determined until the end of the regular season this Saturday, it is pretty clear which teams are the top contenders to win it all this year.
The following is a brief look at the three teams from each conference that have the best chance to win this year’s Stanley Cup along with their current odds as provided by WagerWeb.
The resurgent Pittsburgh Penguins behind a healthy Sidney Crosby have been opened as +300 favorites to add another Stanley Cup title to their resume. With two regular season games left on the schedule, the Penguins have pretty much locked-up the fourth seed in the East. Their path to the NHL Finals will not be easy with a likely first-round matchup against Philadelphia and a probable date with the New York Rangers down the road, but this team is built to go deep this year with the highest goals-per-game average in the league at 3.30.
Speaking of the New York Rangers, they have already clinched the top spot in the East and home ice advantage through the conference finals, which could be a huge plus given their 27-11-2 record at home this season. They have also been extremely stingy on defense with a goals-against-average of 2.16 and remain one of the best teams in the league against the power play. Defense wins championships which add a tremendous amount of value to New York’s +550 odds.
The 2011 champion Boston Bruins are listed at +800 to successfully defend their title. They will begin their run as the second-seed in the East after clinching the Northeast Division. The Bruins remain one of the more balanced teams with a goals-per-game average of 3.18 to go along with a 2.44 goals-against-average, which are both ranked near the top of the league. If goalie Tim Thomas can recreate the magic from a year ago, Boston has a legitimate shot to repeat.
The Vancouver Canucks could be peaking at just the right time with a late season surge that has them one win away from clinching the top spot in the West. They are 50-21-9 with two games left to play and tied with the Rangers for the most points at 109. The Canucks have been opened as +500 favorites to erase the bitter memory of last season’s loss in the Stanley Cup Finals with a victory this year. They are also well balanced on both offense and defense and with Cory Schneider in goal, well positioned for another deep run.
The team that could take everyone by surprise in this tournament as +750 favorites is the St. Louis Blues. A second-half surge helped the Blues lock-up the Central Division and at the very least the second-seed in the playoffs which gives them that all-important home ice advantage for the first two rounds. St.Louis is not one of the flashiest teams in the NHL with a very pedestrian 2.53 goals-per-game, but it knows how to play shutdown defense with a league-best goals-against-average of just 1.86. A big reason for this has been the play of goalie Brian Elliott, who leads the NHL with a GAA of 1.48 and a .943 save percentage. Many teams have ridden a hot goalie all the way to a championship and the Blues are in excellent position to do it again this year.
The Detroit Red Wings have struggled down the stretch with a disastrous 4-10 record in the month of March, but this still remains a very dangerous team especially at home where it is 31-6-2 on the year. The problem with the Red Wings is that they have a very difficult time winning on the road which could come back to haunt them as the likely fifth or sixth seed in the West. The value in Detroit’s +1000 odds still remains, but you could be looking at a team may have peaked too soon this season.
DJ is a freelance writer that concentrates on his true passion in life; the world of sports. He produces a number of articles each week for BangTheBook.com as well as a select group of other websites that specialize in providing the most up-to-date information for the sports gaming industry. His goal is to write insightful articles on a wide variety of sporting topics that can provide an edge to today's sophisticated online player.