Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview Part 1: Overview

 Lord Stanley’s Cup

Hot Take: hockey is the most exciting sport on the planet.  Having a wager on a game that goes into a 3 v 3 overtime, followed by penalty shots if the game is still tied is a volley of pure gambling adrenaline.  Hockey combines the speed, power, grace and grittiness of other sports, but the athletes are wearing skates playing on ice.  Players zooming down the ice at 20 mph... slapshots flying by at 90 mph... difficult to find a more dynamic experience in sports.  I’d wager most of us cannot skate forward well, much less backward at a high speed, carrying a stick and whacking at a six-ounce vulcanized rubber disc. 

The ultimate prize in sports, Lord Stanley’s Cup, is pursued passionately by the men who play hockey.  Since Lord Stanley of Preston donated the first trophy to the top amateur hockey team in 1893, only 3 trophies have been produced.  Every year since 1924, select names are engraved on the trophy memorializing the winning side.  Unlike other professional sports leagues, the Cup is not made new every year but has been passed down for decades and shared among the winning athletes. The Cup has been swimming with Dominik Hasek, sank to the bottom of Patrick Roy’s pool, and kicked into an Ottawa canal.  The Cup has racked up thousands of frequent flyer miles, spending time in Russia, Sweden, and even Afghanistan.  Stories about the Cup from baby baptisms, giant ice cream sundaes, to the burning of the Madison Square Garden mortgage after the Rangers won the title are better saved for the offseason but it is easy to see why Lord Stanley’s Cup is the most revered of sports trophies with many players not touching the hardware unless they win the NHL championship.

Hockey and hockey wagering typically take second stage to the other sports played in the U.S. and Canada; football dominates the fall/winter and basketball often steals the spotlight in the winter/spring. Even now, March Madness and baseball’s opening day are discussed far more than the impending NHL playoffs. The quest for the Stanley Cup is shaping up to be the most exciting playoffs of any major sport this year and it’s one of the best kept secrets in all of sports media. 

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 Setting the Stage

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been a dominant force this season, but they face a tough road in the Eastern Conference to make it to the Cup finals.  Close on the Lightning’s heels are the defending champ Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, and Toronto Maple Leafs.  Not to slight Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins who are the equivalent of the New England Patriots in the NHL- competitive every year.  The Carolina Hurricanes brought the excitement of the “Storm Surge” victory celebrations and the Columbus Blue Jackets have gone all in to win the Cup.

The top team in Western Conference this regular season was the high-flying Calgary Flames- if you want to see goals, get your popcorn ready.  The hottest team in hockey is the Saint Louis Blues who have a rookie of the year candidate in goalie Jordan Binnington.  The San Jose Sharks square off against their burgeoning bitter rival the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round which may feature some old school hockey.  The Dallas Stars have a dominant goal tending combination that can carry them out of the first round.  Winnipeg and Nashville have put together solid win producing years even if they are not spectacular.  If you have not watched much hockey in the past or want to see what the buzz is about, you will not be disappointed in these playoffs.

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 The current market odds for Stanley Cup Playoff futures are shown above for reference purposes.

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For those new to the NHL, qualifying and seeding for the playoffs are is unlike other professional sports.  The pros/cons about how it is set up have been covered at length by the hardcore hockey fans, but in general it does a nice job rewarding regular season play.  The NHL is broken down into two conferences each with two divisions.  The second and third best teams in the Divisions play each other- Metro Division #2 are New York Islanders who host #3 Pittsburgh Penguins (as of 4/2).  Then the teams with the seventh and eight most points are added as #4 seeds regardless of Division.  This is how two teams, Columbus and Carolina, who are in the same Division can make the playoffs.  Albeit confusing, it affords the eight best teams in each Conference to get a shot at the title.  Thanks to this setup, not all the home ice advantages have been decided and there are still teams fighting for a final playoff spot but let’s dive into what we know is already decided with the first of matchup specific previews... Part 2 BOS-TOR series preview tomorrow

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-@holmes168