After consecutive years of watching Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins battle Nicklas Lidstroms Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals, the National Hockey League got a break from the closest things to modern day dynasties facing off in the championship series, with the Chicago Blackhawks defeating the Philadelphia Flyers to hoist the cup. While the Flyers and Blackhawks both enjoyed phenomenal seasons, both teams were forced to scale back in the offseason due to the salary cap restrictions. Meanwhile, the Penguins and Red Wings have both maintained their core, while adding several little pieces that should be just enough to get them back to the finals.
Eastern Conference Winner – Pittsburgh Penguins +260
The Penguins struggled with consistency last season, finishing fourth in the Eastern conference with 101 points, two back of the New Jersey Devils for the Atlantic division crown. Superstar Evgeni Malkin suffered a letdown year, as well as goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, and the team was criticized for not having the urgency they showed while making consecutive trips to the finals the previous two years. The problem very well may have been complacency, something that will not be a factor this year when this team takes to the ice. Captain Sidney Crosby continues to mature in to one of the most complete superstars in the game, and with both Malkin and Fleury playing to their potential this year, the Penguins should be unstoppable. The Devils and Philadelphia Flyers will provide the biggest challenge for Pittsburgh.
Western Conference Winner – Detroit Red Wings +350
The Red Wings finished the 2010-11 regular season as the hottest team in the NHL, rising above the injuries and inconsistencies that had plagued them all season to finish only 11 points back of the San Jose Sharks for first place in the Western conference. Detroit transitioned to goaltender Jimmy Howard last year, and although he struggled early, the rookie picked up confidence as the season progressed and looked like a Vezina trophy-candidate by the time it was through. A full season from Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, and Pavel Datsyuk will also go a long way in to Detroit regaining their platform atop the league. The Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks will provide the biggest challenge for Detroit.
Pick To Meet In Cup Finals: Red Wings-Penguins +1600
Stanley Cup Finals Predictions
When the Penguins and Red Wings meet in the finals for the third time in four years, it will serve as the passing of the torch as the most dominant team over the past 15 years loses to the team that will take that role going forward. Pittsburgh has one of the strongest core nucleus’ in the league, and that they are so young gives them the opportunity to build going forward without having to make any major acquisitions. The Red Wings will give them a run for their money, no doubt, but in the end the Penguins will be the team that ends up raising the Stanley Cup.
Stanley Cup Winner: Penguins Over Red Wings In Six