Who’s it going to be? NHL conference predictions

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This year’s NHL playoffs are filled with surprises, upsets, and trends that contradict all the odds. But we decided to take a stab at some predictions, with a few conference calls that cover the stats, the dreams, the should-bes and everything in between:

Western Conference:

The Favorite: Nashville Predators

Last year’s favorite, with a stacked defense, the Predators are unsurprisingly, once again, a top contender to win the Western Conference. According to Forbes, at the beginning of the playoffs, “Vegas installed the Preds as a 3.51-1 (+350) favorite, quite short odds for a team that has to navigate through four rounds to win a title.” With the best odds in the league, the Predators are definitely the favorite to win the Conference, and are becoming a trendy choice for the final. “Am I picking Nashville just because everyone else is picking Nashville? Maybe,” CBS sports reporter Pete Blackburn writes about his predictions. On trend or not, the Predators have the odds and the defense to win their division.

The Newbies: Vegas Golden Knights

Another Vegas favorite, and not just because of hometown pride. The Golden Knights are bringing a new and unprecedented success to the thought of an expansion team with this “golden” first season. According to Sporting News, the Vegas Golden Knights’ odds place them fourth in line to win the Stanley Cup. Although the Anaheim Ducks were formerly predicted to take out the Golden Knights, the San Jose Sharks shut out of the Ducks in Round 1, setting up a meeting between the Sharks and Golden Knights in Round 2. With the Golden Knight’s odds ranking them above the Sharks, it appears that they may very well be the Pacific Division winners, and if they can get past that stacked defense of the Predators, then they’ll have a shot at continuing their Cinderella story by making it to the Final.

Eastern Conference:   

The Offensive: Tampa Bay Lightning

“The Tampa Bay Lightning, who won the conference with 113 points, and are 5-1 (+500)- the best odds of any franchise besides Nashville- are the top Vegas choice in the East to win the Stanley Cup,” per Forbes. With an aggressive and effective offensive section scoring 290 goals in the regular season, more than any team since 2009-10, the high-powered offense will be a challenge to shut out. Despite the Vegas odds, and their incredible scoring potential, the Lightening don’t seem to be a favorite among predictors. On CBS Sports, two of three hockey analysts predicted that the Lightening would be shut out, while one predicted that they would win the Eastern Conference and ultimately go on to battle the Predators for the Cup, where their strong offense would fall short to an even stronger defense. Even still, with star players like Nikita Kucherov, the Russian right wing favored to win the Hart Memorial Trophy, an experienced coach, and a team with plenty of playoff and even finals experience, it’s no surprise why they were the consensus favorite for most of the regular season.

The “Three-peater” Pittsburgh Penguins:

The returning champs and winners of the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017, the Pittsburgh Penguins are back in the playoffs, looking to three-peat. Although their odds aren’t that great, opening in Vegas with 12-1 (+1200), and seeking to accomplish something that has only happened a total of five times in all of NHL history – and hasn’t been done since 1980-1983 with the New York Islanders – the Penguins are becoming a kind of weird-returning Champ-under dog. With power plays at 26.2 percent, the Penguins definitely have the experience and the drive to succeed at winning a third Stanley Cup, or at least getting close.

With regular season stats and histories rarely holding true in the playoffs, like with the Devils having three regular season victories over the Lightening and yet being unable to match that in the playoffs, it proves that anything can happen and all histories, predictions, and odds can be thrown out the window when players decide to show up and fight for their place in the finals.