Anyone else, aside from me and Ray Shero, feel like they simply awoke to Christmas morning?
Playoffs start this evening, it is the most wonderful time of year, and we are about as jacked up as Mitchell Marner after chugging his second-intermission Red Bull.
Drop the puck already.
Only a sweet 16 teams are relevant, so we present our NHL Power Rankings: Stanley Cup Odds Edition.
Teams are ranked based on my (highly questionable) judgment on their strength heading to the post-season. The Vegas line in their odds of keg-standing out of Lord Stanley are tagged below each write-up.
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1. Tampa Bay Lightning
Has there ever been a greater favorite for prom king? The Lightning strut to the dancing like they own the place. Just the second team ever to collect 62 wins, the Bolts finished with a ridiculous plus-103 target differential, only 41 goals better compared to Calgary. Tampa dresses three 40 goal scorers. Nikita Kucherov won the Art Ross in a stroll, and the Bolts have strong contenders for the Hart, Vezina and Jack Adams. Brayden Point might get a few Selke votes, and I have two Lightning defencemen in my Norris ballot. The tournament entry with a mile.
Stanley Cup odds: 2/1
2. Calgary Flames
You’ve no doubt heard the phrase”there is no easy first-round match-ups” during the lead-up into Game 1, but the Flames did themselves so many favour by clinching the abandoned summit. Not only do they draw a Colorado squad that actually lost more matches (44) than it won (38) — yay for its lose point! — but if they could look after business swiftly, the Flames can kick up their feet and observe Vegas and San Jose pummel each other. For all of the hand-wringing over Calgary’s goaltending, remember this: No Pacific playoff team gave up fewer goals than the Flames (227).
Stanley Cup odds: 8/1
3. Boston Bruins
Give the big, bad Bruins home-ice advantage as well the border in grit and leadership edge over the Maple Leafs, convinced. And Bruce Cassidy is one of the best coaches nobody talks about. But Toronto has got the upper hand in speed and offensive depth, no matter how large your view of Charlie Coyle. The big question here is, which Tuukka Rask do we get? When it’s the one who submitted seven sub-.900 save percentages in his past 10 looks, Cassidy needs to recognize it quick and provide Jaroslav Halak that the crease.
Stanley Cup odds: 9/1
4. Washington Capitals
Anyone else feel as the hockey world is sleeping on the reigning champs? Sure, their hardworking Round 1 opponent ought to be loose and has nothing to lose, however, the Hurricanes should also be emptied from their standings scale, feeling like they have already played two months of playoffs. Led by a guy who’s won the Rocket Richard so frequently they might think about renaming the trophy, the Caps dodged the Penguins and Islanders, have the bulk of their Celtics roster in tact, and know what it takes to go all of the way.
Stanley Cup odds: 12/1
5. St. Louis Blues
Hotter than a pistol, the Blues’ remarkable post-Christmas ascent should strike fear throughout the state of Manitoba. Believe Ryan O’Reilly was happy to not attend Sabres locker clean-out moment? The Selke danger has watched everyone around him pick up the slack over the past 3 months. The defence seems mean, Vladimir Tarasenko rediscovered his touch, and when rookie Jordan Binnington can preserve his .927 save percent, seem out.
Stanley Cup chances: 14/1
6. Nashville Predators
Good on the Predators for out-pacing the Jets down the stretch. The Central Division kings can hang another banner and dodge the bullet that is the third-seed Blues. It’s the exact same old story in Nashville: The defence is elite, the goaltending ought to be solid enough to win a round or 2, but the offence — ranked 19th overall — is suspicious. Incredibly, Nashville rolls in with the absolute worst power play in the NHL (12.9 per cent), and new men Wayne Simmonds and Mikael Granlund (one goal apiece) have not supplied an antidote. Considerable ambitions are tempered by even more serious concerns.
Stanley Cup chances: 12/1
7. Pittsburgh Penguins
I’ve heard long ago: Never bet against a Sidney Crosby team. Evgeni Malkin is healthy, Matt Murray hit his stride in the second half, and the Penguins’ power play and experience are sufficient to make them a threat in any set. Yes, the Islanders take more momentum to the championship, but the Penguins’ standing as a mini dynasty and perennial contender earns them an edge in power.
Stanley Cup odds: 16/1
8. New York Islanders
The Islanders would be the perfect case of a sum exceeding its components. Goals are hard to discover (228 total, placing them 21st overall), and yet Barry Trotz’s team has bought into the concept that all they need to do is find the web once more compared to their opponent. As good of a benefit Nassau Coliseum may feel to be, the Isles actually enrolled the exact same number of wins house and off (24). No one has studied Mike Sullivan’s match programs as intently as Trotz, so when his Jennings-winning goaltenders will keep it rolling, that knows just how many chapters are left in this Cinderella story?
Stanley Cup odds: 20/1
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