Another season is done and one of the most exciting times of the year is upon us; the time for playoff hockey. For the first time ever the NHL will use a new playoff format, seeding the top three teams in each division and adding two wild card teams. While this shakes things up considerably, in no other sport does seeding mean less than it does in hockey – where a four or five seed (or even lower) can go on a strong playoff run, as the 1995 Devils, 2006 Oilers, and the 2012 Los Angeles Kings can attest. Here are the 10 NHL teams with the best odds of winning the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
10. New York Rangers (20/1 odds)
The Rangers finished the season winning six of their last ten games and earning points in eight of their last ten. They took second in the Metropolitan Division and will draw Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs. Defensively, they’re fourth in opponent scoring and finished third in penalty kill percentage. They don’t score a ton of goals, falling into the middle of the pack in goals scored and power play goal percentage, though they’ve improved since the trade deadline when they acquired Martin St. Louis from Tampa in exchange for Ryan Callahan. The Rangers aren’t the prohibitive cup favorite, but they’re consistent and won’t make it easy on Philly in the first round.
9. Montreal Canadiens (20/1 odds)
The Canadiens don’t score enough, but they still managed to put up 100 points in the standings this year, finishing third behind Boston and Tampa Bay in the Atlantic. Montreal will win games with defense. They finished the season eighth in goals allowed and fourth in power play percentage. They get production from a variety of players while relying on a stingy defense and solid goaltending. Young Carey Price won 34 games in net and his .927 save percentage was tied for third best in the league. Montreal will draw a difficult first round opponent in Tampa Bay.
8. Los Angeles Kings (12/1 odds)
Always dangerous, the Kings head into the playoffs with a slightly re-tooled roster from the one they began the season with. They made a series of small moves at the trade deadline but it was their big ones which might pay dividends at playoff time. The Kings acquired goalie Ben Scrivens from Edmonton and Marian Gaborik from the Blue Jackets. Though no longer a 40 goal scorer, Gaborik has quietly been productive since the trade. The Kings are the stingiest team in the league in terms of goals against – and that might be the most important factor for a deep cup run. The combination of Jonathan Quick, Ben Scrivens, and Martin Jones will be tough to beat in net and their defense is stifling. The only question is if they can score enough to get by.
7. San Jose Sharks (8/1 odds)
San Jose earned points in six of their last ten games and finished the season with 111 points. The road won’t be easy for the Sharks. They draw the always pesky Los Angeles Kings in the first round. Even so, the Sharks are an extremely well-rounded team. They finished sixth in goals per game and penalty killing percentage and fifth in goals against per game. They’re not great on the power play, but each of their top three centers put up 70+ points. Antti Niemi’s .913 save percentage and 2.39 goals against average will be on full display throughout the playoffs.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins (7/1 odds)
Pittsburgh won the Metropolitan Division and finished second in the Eastern Conference with 109 points. Led by Sidney Crosby and his 104 points and 36 goals, the Penguins are the best power play team in the league, scoring on 23.4% of their opportunities. They also are the fifth best penalty killing team, tenth in goals against and fifth in goals per game. Consistency is their bread and butter as you would expect from a team featuring Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, and Jokinen. Marc-Andre Fleury has been great in net winning 39 games this year while boasting a .915 save percentage and 2.37 goals against average. The Penguins will get Columbus in the first round of the playoffs.
5. Anaheim Ducks (7/1 odds)
Anaheim led the league in scoring, averaging 3.2 goals per game this season, and they finished ninth in goals against. Special teams are not their forte, as they finished twenty-second in power play percentage and thirteenth overall in penalty kill percentage. The Ducks feature a 43 goal scorer in Corey Perry and two players with 80+ points (Perry and Getzlaf). They’re solid from top to bottom. Always reliable, Jonas Hiller will get the bulk of the work in net. The Ducks were tied with San Jose with a +57 goal differential and cruised into the playoffs with a four-game winning streak. They’ll draw Dallas in the first round.
4. Chicago Blackhawks (6/1 odds)
The defending cup champions finished third in the tough Central Division and will draw division rival Saint Louis in the first round of the playoffs. The Blackhawks finished second in the league in goals per game. However, they struggled somewhat in containing the power play. Chicago has five players who put up 60 points or more and every line can score. Crawford is always tough in net and come playoff time he can be unstoppable. The Blackhawks bring a ton of playoff experience with them and that experience will prove invaluable. This is a team only one year removed from winning the Stanley Cup. They return to the playoffs with the same core of players from a year before. Their road won’t be easy though, as they must fend off Saint Louis in the first round.
3. St. Louis Blues (6/1 odds)
Losers of their last six, no team struggled more heading into the playoffs than the Blues. Even so, St. Louis finished tied with Anaheim for the second best scoring differential in the league. They’re sixth in the league in goals scored, third in goals against, eighth in power play goals and second in penalty killing. Seven of their players put up at least 40 points. This has been an interesting season as the Blues traded Jaroslav Halak (among other things) to the Buffalo Sabres for Ryan Miller and Steve Ott. Miller and has played an important role in getting the Blues into the playoffs and will finally get a chance to shine in the postseason again. Injuries could be a concern as T.J. Oshie might miss some time after suffering a mid-ice hit against the Wild near the end of the season.
2. Colorado Avalanche (6/1 odds)
The surprising Avalanche earned points in nine of their last ten games and raced to first place in the Central Division. They finished fourth in the league in goals per game and fifth in power play percentage, though they sometimes struggled on the power play. Led by Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly, the young Avs are relatively deep. Not only are the Avalanche good this year, they should be good for years to come. With a penalty kill in the bottom third of the league, power plays will be especially important for Colorado. Their first round series will be against the Minnesota Wild, a team they struggled against in the regular season, losing three of five games against them. However, every game was decided by less than two goals and two games ended in a shoot-out.
1. Boston Bruins (3/1 odds)
Boston finished with a league-best 117 points and won the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. Six players scored 50 or more points and eight put up 40 or more. The Bruins call on Tuukka Rask in the net, one of the best goalies in the league. Rask’s .930 save percentage was second best in the league and his 2.04 goals against average was good for fourth best. Boston also finished with the best goal differential in the league, scoring 84 more goals than the competition. The Bruins have a lot of playoff experience. In the last four years they’ve won the Stanley Cup once, lost in the finals once and made the playoffs on both other occasions, experience they will find invaluable in their first round against Detroit.
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