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Hockey purists consider it the best championship playoffs in all of sports. Whether or not that’s the case, you can definitely expect intense action and good betting opportunities every night for the next month or so as the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs get underway on Wednesday night. As of this past weekend the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks weren’t even assured of qualifying for the playoffs at all. Whether or not they eventually make the field of 16 you can expect a wide open and highly competitive affair all the way through to the finals.
The current betting favorite is the Vancouver Canucks, who finished with the NHL’s best overall record. On paper, Vancouver is a team without any real weaknesses—they have the #1 ranked scoring offense in the NHL, the #1 ranked scoring defense and arguably the best goaltender in Roberto Luongo. That being said, they’ve also got a track record of disappointing playoff performances so their regular season success is of little consolation to Canucks’ fans.   Another potential road block awaits if the Blackhawks do slip into the #8 spot in the West—they’ll play the Canucks in the first round and could present the most dangerous tactical matchup for Vancouver of any team in the conference.
Even if Vancouver does get past Chicago there are other strong contenders as well—the Detroit Red Wings are a veteran team that knows how to get it done in the post season though there are questions about the quality of their goaltending. The San Jose Sharks have also rounded into impressive competitive form as the season has progressed. Even a team like Nashville could go far—they play tough defense and get great goaltending and there’s plenty of precedent for a goalie to get hot at just the right time and lead his team to the finals.
Over in the Eastern Conference, the ‘public’ has cooled to the Washington Capitals this year because they’re not scoring in buckets like they did last season. That’s a mistake, because the team has started to become very comfortable with their new defensively oriented system and is a tough matchup for any team. They’ve still got players who can get the big goal when needed—most significantly Alex Ovechkin—but their improved defensive play should take them far into the playoffs. 
The Philadelphia Flyers are also a serious threat to go all the way, though they’ve suffered from erratic play on both ends of the ice at various points this season. When they’re playing well, however, they have a similar blend of offense and defense as Vancouver does and are a tough team to beat. Pittsburgh and Boston have struggled to score, but could go far with their tenacious defensive play. And the East also has a potential ‘dark horse’ contender—the Montreal Canadiens don’t score a lot of goals but get great goaltending from Carey Price.
Regardless of the outcome, the Stanley Cup playoffs will offer weeks of great action every night of the week along with superb wagering opportunities on both NHL sides and totals. As far as the ultimate outcome, we like the Washington Capitals to take the Cup in a tough series with the Vancouver Canucks.