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Grading the Eastern Conference Heavyweights

I make no bones about touting the NHL playoffs as the most exciting gauntlet run that exists. In no other sport is the race so wide open in the post season due to the inherent nature of the sport itself. Those who are keen on hockey already know that this is the truth – anyone can win. For bettors who are new to hockey, just accept it as fact.

The moneyline glory that comes flying across your face each and every night aside, the NHL has reached a form of parity that suggests that the top billed teams should be taking a fair crack at having their names etched on the Stanley Cup.

Currently, the Nashville Predators are listed as the presumptive favorites to win the title but a lot of that has to do with the fact that the Western Conference is watered down compared to the east. It’s a true pick-your-poison option of two in the west with Nashville and Las Vegas vying for your attention. Check out the NHL futures below. The next best bet in the west is the Winnipeg Jets at +1000.

Odds to Win the 2018 Stanley Cup by
Nashville Predators +500
Tampa Bay Lightning +550
Boston Bruins +650
Vegas Golden Knights +650
Pittsburgh Penguins +900
Toronto Maple Leafs +1200

For that reason, much of the spotlight has been shone on the highly competitive Eastern Conference which has three teams that have played like contenders all year and a fourth who are the two-time defending champions. So how do they actually stack up against each other, and where is your money best suited in the NHL playoffs? Basically anywhere but Columbus, Philadelphia or New Jersey.

Boston Bruins (+300 to win Eastern Conference)

Zero weaknesses. That’s the best qualifier to describe the Bruins. Acquiring Nash at the deadline solidified a team that has a depth of riches in size, speed and brute force. After the deadline, the Bruins were briefly the Stanley Cup favorite but those odds have normalized greatly in the past few weeks.

The reason is that the blue line, which is still led by Zdeno Chara, has shown weaknesses against both Tampa and Toronto. Boston has allowed 20 goals against and scored 20 goals against those two teams. Speed seems to be their weakness, but that’s regular season play. In the playoffs, size and aggressiveness are absolutely essential and no team is more bruising than then Bruins. A solid play overall.

Tampa Bay Lightning (+275 to win Eastern Conference)

An absolutely scintillating offence that ranks first in the league has been matched by a less than stellar defensive effort. Tampa is a big soft for most people’s liking, which is exactly why sharps and handicappers tend to move away from them when it comes to the NHL playoffs. They rank 27th in both penalty killing and face offs, which is a must-haves in the post season.

That coupled with the questionable health of one Steven Stamkos makes the Lightning a vulnerable favorite. They receive these odds as the winningest team in the conference (and the league as a whole) but they might have run too hot during the regular season. Questions abound as to whether or not Andrew Vasilevskiy can really hold his own in the pressure cooker of the playoffs as well.

Toronto Maple Leafs (+600 to win Eastern Conference Finals)

The darling bet of the Eastern Conference has been the Leafs for the entire season. Nobody argued that they’d be this good eventually, it’s just that nobody thought it would happen so fast. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander have turned this team in to a force of nature.

Toronto is a great team in the face-off circle, a high scoring offense that has depth on three lines and Freddy Andersen has blossomed in to a reliable netminder between the posts. Everything suggests that they’re a hard lesson or two away from being a real Stanley Cup contender, but that belies just how exciting this team is. Plus, I’m sure that this young squad hasn’t shaken the brutal series loss to Washington last year.

If anything, the kids in Toronto have grown like weeds and are undoubtedly a threat to steal the conference title. The odds here mean you don’t have to go nuts to win a nice chunk of change, and Toronto has shed their reputation as a failing franchise. This team is fantastic and the only reason the odds are here is because the team lacks some size and ferocity. They’re the inverse of the Bruins to a certain point, but that’s the great thing about the hockey playoffs – teams can most certainly rise to the challenge.

NHL hockey has also changed over the years to value rosters like Toronto’s over the carnage inflicted by bigger, more violent squads. I’m not saying that they’re a lock, but they’re a great value play overall.

The tough part? Toronto is destined for a rivalry to end all rivalries if and when they play Boston in the opening round.

Pittsburgh Penguins (+450 to win Eastern Conference)

You can’t talk about the Eastern Conference without mentioning the Penguins. To forget them is to be mistaken. If you’re looking for the best bet overall, it’s right here. Great value. Great team. Know how to win. The Penguins essentially have it all.

They are by no means perfect, but no team in the Eastern Conference truly is. What they have is the deadliest scoring line in playoff hockey (for now), and two icons in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Matt Murray, a playoff hero from just last year, has already backstopped this team to a terrific season.

Pittsburgh is not the team that they were last year or the year before, but “getting it done” in the grinder of the NHL playoffs is an important element to creating a winning team. The ebbs and flows are violent enough, and Pittsburgh knows how to ride and counter them. Experience means so damn much at this point in the year which is what makes Pittsburgh such a viable investment.

Washington Capitals (+550 to win Eastern Conference)

I’d be remiss to write about the Eastern Conference without mentioning the Capitals, who are being overlooked for a lot of reasons, but they have a great potential opening round matchup with New Jersey. They’ll kill the Devils without blinking. Washington has been relatively even across the board in terms of play, and it certainly feels as if their window is closing. They’ve never really felt like a true Stanley Cup threat even at Ovechkin’s prime. Since rising to the top of the conference, they’ve also never escaped the second round. Hard to take them seriously to be honest.

We’ll have tons of NHL playoff coverage coming and the best NHL futures at once the matchups get locked in! Get in now before prices are adjusted at the end of the regular season!

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· Howard makes 42 saves, Wings beat Kings
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