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Stanley Cup Front-Runners Ripe for an Upset?

Bruins Try to Snap President’s Trophy Jinx

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin on Monday. The record-setting Boston Bruins are the heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2011.

The Colorado Avalanche are trying to join the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins as recent repeat champions. The Avalanche had the best odds among Western Conference teams according to NHL predictions.

Stanley Cup Front-Runners Ripe for an Upset?
The Boston Bruins celebrate their victory - Panagiotakis/Getty Images/AFP

When looking at the NHL picks, the top odds are for the Bruins and Avalanche to meet in the Stanley Cup Final with a price of +800, followed by a Bruins-Vegas Golden Knights showdown at +1500.

No Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993. The top odds for a matchup of Canadian teams would be the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers at +4500, which would certainly make for some compelling NHL news if that happens.

According to the NHL playoff odds, the Bruins lead the way at +300 in the odds to win the Stanley Cup, followed by the Colorado Avalanche (+700) and Edmonton Oilers (+900).

Favorites don’t have a great recent track record in the NHL playoffs, so which of the top contenders could be at risk for an early exit?

Will Injuries Catch Up to Bruins?

The Bruins had a regular season to remember, setting NHL records with 65 wins and 135 points. The Las Vegas NHL odds have the Bruins as the team to beat heading into the playoffs.

The Bruins had 13 more wins than any other team, with the most wins at home and on the road. They allowed the fewest goals and only suffered four regulation losses at home.

However, the last seven President’s Trophy winners were eliminated in either the first or second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including a 128-point Tampa Bay Lightning team being swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round in 2019.

People who bet online didn’t see that upset of Tampa Bay coming, so it will be interesting to see how Florida matches up with the favored Bruins.

Part of the issue is that a team as dominant as the Bruins hasn’t faced a must-win game all season long, while the Florida Panthers needed a late-season surge just to earn a playoff spot.

It doesn’t help that first-line center Patrice Bergeron was injured in the regular-season finale and missed practice on Saturday and Sunday.

David Krejci also missed some time, while wingers Nick Foligno and Taylor Hall and defenseman Derek Forbort all missed plenty of time late in the regular season. Although he’s the NHL leader in wins, there are also some concerns about goalie Linus Ullmark’s save percentage and goals-against average.

The Bruins had the most points during the 2019-20 and 2013-14 seasons and lost in the second round both times. Even if the Bruins get by Florida, either the Toronto Maple Leafs or three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay would be waiting in the second round.

The Lightning struggled late in the regular season. However, they have plenty of players who know how to win at this time of the season. Toronto is too talented to keep getting eliminated early in the playoffs every year.

The Bruins have everything in place to be the first team with the most points in the regular season to win the Stanley Cup since the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks. However, it won’t be as easy as it looked at times for Boston during the regular season.

Champs Back for More

Colorado is playing high-quality hockey. However, the Avalanche don’t have Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky, while Gabriel Landeskog won’t be available after missing the regular season. They combined for 26 goals during the Avalanche’s run to the Stanley Cup title in 2022.

Not having them leaves questions about the secondary scoring. Making matters worse is that Burakovsky is now playing with the Seattle Kraken, the team that will face Colorado in the first round of the playoffs.

Even if Colorado gets by Seattle, Dallas or Minnesota would be waiting in the second round.

The Dallas Stars finished one point behind Colorado in the Central Division, and Minnesota was just six points back, so either team would pose quite the challenge for the defending champions. There were multiple changes on top of the Central Division standings late in the regular season, so any of the top three teams from the Central Division advancing to the Western Conference finals would not be a total surprise.

Some players may be a little rusty, with reigning Conn Smythe Award winner Cale Makar among the Avalanche players who are coming back for the start of the playoffs.

Vegas Will Be Tested

The Vegas Golden Knights are the top seed in the Western Conference. They are looking to finally seal the deal after knocking on the door as a championship contender since entering the NHL in 2017.

The Edmonton Oilers could be a second-round opponent, entering the playoffs with a 14-0-1 record over the last 15 games.

Edmonton has some of the best defensive numbers in the NHL during that time, so it is not all about Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Co. trying to outscore teams.

Only seven points separated the top three teams in the Pacific Division, and that could make this pretty tough for the Golden Knights.

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