The Eastern Conference race for the playoffs has turned out to be quite interesting. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins were supposed to be conference frontrunners but instead, they haven’t been in the equation and have left a number of other teams to battle it out on the NHL betting lines.
The Favorite: Rangers 9/2
It’s hard to argue with the Rangers as being the favorite on the NHL betting odds, as they’ve been unstoppable over the last month. They’ve won 17 of 22 and that’s without goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in the lineup. He’s one of the league’s best goaltenders in the NHL, so how good might they be once he’s back and healthy?
The other thing to note with the Rangers is that while they’re perceived as a defensive team, they’ve actually had one of the league’s best offenses so far this season. They’ve averaged 2.99 goals per game this season, which is the third-best number in the NHL. If they’re going to score like that, it’s tough to see them being stopped before the Stanley Cup final.
The Sleeper: Senators 35/1
Sounds crazy? It might be as rookie goaltender Andrew Hammond has tapered off a little bit in his last few games. However, the Sens have been absolutely incredible over the last month. They were 22-23-10 on February 18th and were well outside of a playoff spot. However, they’ve won 15 of their last 18 games and moved into the top eight in the Eastern Conference. They still have some work to do to clinch a playoff spot but if this team sneaks in, they aren’t going to be a team anyone wants to face.
While the Senators goaltending has improved significantly since Hammond’s arrival, their offense has also perked up quite a bit. They were 20th in goals per game before the All-Star break but have climbed all the way into second place in that category.
The Pick: New York Rangers
It’s hard to bet against the Rangers here as they look like the most complete team. They are no longer solely reliant on defense as their offense has been showing up in a big way this season. Beyond that, when you take a look at the other top teams in the conference, they appear to have some issues. Tampa Bay is stellar at home (30-8-1) but is subpar on the road (16-14-6). The Montreal Canadiens are a good team but they’ve slumped in the month of March, dropping eight of 13. The New York Islanders have been running with the pack for most of the season but they’ve also been in a funk this month as they’ve now lost six of seven and have had some serious issues in net. As for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings, they’re broken teams too.
So that leaves the Rangers as the best option. They’re strong at both ends of the ice, well-coached and are hungry after falling just short last season. They’re the best NHL pick to win the Eastern Conference as of right now.