In some ways, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are unpredictable Case in point: in each of the last three seasons, neither the top seed from the Western Conference nor the Eastern Conference has reached the finals.
In other ways, the results are foreseeable. Case in point: in recent years, the eventual champ has tended to be a familiar name. Pittsburgh won last year for the second time in eight seasons. In 2015, the Blackhawks captured a third championship in six years. And in 2014, the Kings hoisted the Cup for the second time in three years. It’s that trend that has me passing on Minnesota at 9/2 this year and Washington at 19/4.
Let’s take a closer look at the teams I see as real contenders for Lord Stanley’s mug.
The Blackhawks have all the right elements, including a ton of experience, a balanced team that is good in aspects of the game, and a coach with a winning pedigree. Joel Quenneville has been behind the bench for all three of Chicago’s recent titles. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook have their names etched on the cup three times, as well. In net, the goalie tandem of proven winner Corey Crawford and sometimes spectacular Scott Darling has proven good enough.
Importantly, the Hawks are just as good on the road as they are at home. While they’re not the best regular season team, do you really have more confidence in anyone else during the playoffs?
Based on points and goal differential, the four best teams in the East all reside in the Metropolitan Division. While Washington is perennially disappointing in the postseason, the Penguins tend to find a way (as long as Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t giving away goals for free). The fight for home-ice advantage is real, since Pittsburgh is the best home team in the league. The Pens are also the highest scoring team in the NHL, and the star power of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel tends to win big games.
Matt Murray, who continues to split time with Fleury between the pipes, might be a concern for some. But don’t forget that he backstopped the team to the title just last season.
If you are looking for big odds, you better pounce now on the Bruins now. Despite leading Boston to a Stanley Cup Title in 2011, a finals appearance in 2013, and an overall record of 419-246, Claude Julien was shown the door two weeks ago. Sometimes a new voice is needed. Bruce Cassidy was promoted from assistant coach and Boston has won four straight. In the weak Atlantic Division, the Bruins are just four points out of first place. They are very good on special teams, above average on defense, and are averaging four goals per game since Julien was let go. Tuukka Rask is a top-tier goalie and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Boston add to an offensive core of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, and Patrice Bergeron in the final ten days before the trade deadline.
Photo Credit: Michael Miller [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.