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Playoffs Once More Good For League

With the conference finals underway, NHL executives have to be very happy with how the tournament has progressed.

With the conference finals underway, NHL executives have to be very happy with how the tournament has progressed. Just like last year.

When the Stanley Cup playoffs commenced 38 days ago, league officials were (not so) secretly hoping for an exciting tournament that the fans could get behind. They couldn’t have imagined just what they’d get.

For all its shortcomings, of which there are many, the NHL executive office seems to have some kind of guardian angel perched on its shoulder as, for the second year running, the hockey gods have scripted a tournament that continues to offer twists, turns, drama and entertainment.

Last year, the execs benefited from a postseason that almost (almost!) washed away the bad taste of a third lockout in 19 years.

After a 48-game season and two rounds of enjoyable playoff hockey, the tournament’s final four matched up the previous four Stanley Cup champions – the Pittsburgh Penguins (2009), Chicago Blackhawks (2010), Boston Bruins (2011) and Los Angeles Kings (2012) – ensuring that this really was a case of the cream rising to the top.

This year, the league has benefited from a similar set of circumstances.

After two rounds of edge-of-the-seat hockey that saw 10 of 12 series go a minimum of six games, six series go the distance, and no fewer than 18 games decided in overtime, we’re left with a final four that the NHL brass can drool over.

Once again, the Kings and Blackhawks are contesting a Western Conference finals series that really could go either way (more on that later). Meanwhile, on the Eastern side of the bracket we have a showdown between a pair of Original Six teams, a pair of teams each looking to end a 20-year championship-less drought.

The Canadiens – a team that has appeared in 34 Stanley Cup finals, winning 24 – last won a Stanley Cup in 1993. The Rangers lifted the giant cup a year later. Both clubs, and their hardcore fan bases, are starving for another championship run, which makes for entertaining hockey.

But it isn’t just history that makes this a good final four for the league.

At this time, the NHL brass is profiting from the fact that the three biggest television markets in the United States are all tuning into playoff hockey. In addition, with the Habs involved, much of Canada still has its eye on the puck. We’re not saying hockey fans north of the border are rooting for the Habs – it’s hard to imagine fans in Toronto, Ottawa or Quebec City (do the old Nordiques fans still hate the Habs?) cheering on their rivals – but even those cheering for the other side are tuning in.

Moving on, whichever two sides make the Stanley Cup Finals, viewing numbers should be suitably high for a league that has to constantly find ways to retain viewers more than any of the other major professional sport leagues, and higher than last year’s series.

Blackhawks fans are devoted. Everybody in New York City loves a winner. The Habs are a hockey dynasty which makes them infinitely watchable. And we’ve seen what happens in the unlikely hockey climes of Los Angeles when the Kings are on form. To say the least, this run of Stanley Cup playoffs is once more great for the league.


Habs Topple Rangers in OT

NY Rangers lead series 2-1

When Montreal goaltender Carey Price was ruled out for the rest of the Eastern Conference finals, things started to look very bleak for the club from north of the border. With the Rangers leading the best-of-seven 2-0, it looked like we could be looking at just the second sweep of the postseason.

The Canadiens made sure that didn’t happen on Thursday night.

With the series switching to Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, Alex Galchenyuk scored a goal 1:12 into overtime to snap a 2-2 tie and give the Habs a much-need road win.

Backup goaltender Dustin Tokarski stopped 35-of-37 shots as the Rangers once more bombarded the Montreal goal, recording a second star honor in the process. If the young netminder can keep up this type of performance, the Habs could well be back in this series.

Game 4 between the Rangers and Canadiens is scheduled to take place at Madison Square Garden on Sunday (8:00 p.m. ET).

Odds & Trends

Kings, Hawks Headed for City of Angels

Series tied 1-1

Having split a pair in the Windy City, the Kings and Blackhawks take their Western Conference finals series to Los Angeles for a brace of games, starting Saturday.

The Kings’ 6-2 victory on Wednesday night  really set this series up. The Blackhawks had been favored to repeat their 2013 Stanley Cup championship win for much of this season, while the Kings were merely expected to be also rans during this postseason. The Kings continue to underdog their way to success.

On Saturday (8:00 p.m. ET) the two sides will meet at Staples Center, each looking to edge a narrow lead in the series. The Kings will enter the game as favorite, while the Blackhawks (-130) remain a marginal favorite on the series line.

Odds & Trends


For a full list of the latest NHL playoff odds, click here.

When available, updated NHL futures odds can be found here.

For a selection of NHL team prop bets, click here.

For a selection of NHL player prop bets, click here.

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