In our latest Five Alive, the Tampa Bay Lightning keep the top spot but two new teams enter the fray, one team moves up two spots and one remains the same. Welcome to the Five Alive Pittsburgh Penguins and Vegas Golden Knights and Boston Bruins, and, you’re moving on up Calgary Flames!
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
As teams passed through the halfway mark of the 2018-19 season in the last week and continue to do so now, it appears, at least in the Eastern Conference, that it’s just the Lightning and then everyone else. Tampa Bay is that good that as it looks now, it’s going to take a monumental upset for them to not make their fourth Eastern Conference Final in five years and a strong upset for them not to advance to past that round and into the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in five years. The Bolts are not only a dependable favorite, they’re also a great play on the over, with their arsenal of firepower up front. Hart Trophy candidate Nikita Kucherov, captain Steven Stamkos, new sniper Brayden Point and Vezina Trophy candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy have the Lightning as odds on favorites to hoist Lord Stanley at +600 after starting the season at +300.
2. Calgary Flames
Not to discredit the rest of the team but the Flames don’t jump two spots here and find themselves battling for the top spot in the Western Conference if not for Johnny ‘Hockey’ Gaudreau. The Flames winger has come alive and become one of those players you can count on to do something exciting every game! Gaudreau carried a six-game point streak into Friday’s game against the Panthers and had his team playing their best of hockey of the season. The Flames do have depth behind Gaudreau too as Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm and Matt Tkachuk are chipping in every night and Mark Giordano is having a Norris Trophy like season on the blue line. The Flames came into the season at +1100 and can now be had at a solid play of +1600.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
A newcomer to Five Alive this season, the Pittsburgh Penguins are looking a lot like the team won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017 and their captain is looking a lot like the Sidney Crosby who won the Conn Smythe after both those Cup runs. Before losing to the Blackhawks on January 6, the Pens had won eight straight and Crosby was seemingly in on every big goal or play. He has once again put his team on his shoulders, but as he did in those Cup runs, he’s had help between the pipes as Matt Murray returned from injury and won eight straight games heading into the Pens’ game at Anaheim Friday. Pittsburgh is definitely a team worth watching in the second half, and the Pens are scoring more so the over on team goals is a solid play as well. The Penguins were +1400 to win the Cup at the start of the season and are now worth a future at +2000.
4. Vegas Golden Knights
The defending Western Conference champions appeared to have a bit of a Stanley Cup Final hangover even though they lost the final to the Capitals. The Vegas Golden Knights came out of the gate sluggish, battled some key injuries and a suspension to defenseman Nate Schmidt and over the last two weeks have found their groove again. Vegas had ripped off seven straight wins heading into Thursday’s tilt with San Jose and win or lose in that one, it’s clear they should be considered contenders again in the West. With Max Pacioretty back from injury and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury among the league leaders in wins and shutouts, the Knights are worth some solid plays down the stretch and also on the under as well. Vegas came into the season at +1700 and can now be had +2000.
5. Washington Capitals
I was about to put the Boston Bruins into this final slot in Five Alive as they had ripped off five straight wins heading into their tilt with the defending Stanley Cup Champions Thursday. The problem is, the Capitals had won 13 straight over the Bruins and with their 4-2 win at Boston Thursday they extended that streak of dominance to 14. The Capitals aren’t necessarily dominating every team they play this season but they are more often than not reminding us why they are the champs. Alexander Ovechkin is lighting the lamp at an Ovechkian pace, Nicklas Backstrom is creating magic, Tom Wilson is driving opponents nuts and lighting the lamp as well and Braden Holtby is a wall between the pipes again. The Caps may lay a clunker here and there, but more often than not, they will be a smart play in the second half. The champs were +1200 to repeat and remain +1200 as the second half gets underway.