Combine the toughness and athleticism of the NFL, the passionate fans of college sports, and the worldwide appeal of the NBA, and you get the NHL. This is a sport that features players that tip the scales at 220 pounds or more crashing into each other while skating 30 mph. Thousands of fans pack the arena in cold and snowy places like Edmonton, Calgary, Minneapolis, and Buffalo. And there is no better Winter Olympic event than the hockey tournament that features NHL players suiting up for Russia, Finland, Sweden, Canada, Slovenia, Norway, and the United States, among others.

If baseball is America’s national pastime, ice hockey is Canada’s. Although more NHL teams now reside in the United States and the Stanley Cup champion is much more often an American team. But that’s a good thing. Since U.S. exposure to the sport ballooned following Wayne Gretzky’s stint in Los Angeles, eight expansion teams have been added and huge television dollars have followed. That means more games, better coverage, the push that eventually allowed professional hockey players time off for the Olympics, and a much more vibrant gambling environment for the hockey fan.

Betting in the NHL

While many forms of gambling are a game of chance, sports betting is a game of study and skill. No place is that truth more evident than when betting on hockey. Analyze the goalkeepers, weigh home-ice advantage, look at trends based on the number of days between games, then come up with your own probability that each team will win. Then compare what you’ve come up vs. what the oddsmakers say, and then place you bet from there.

Betting the Puck Line

The puck line in hockey operates exactly like the point spread in other sports. You either give goals because your money is on the favourite, or get goals with a bet on the underdog. But since the league is only averaging a little more than 5 goals a game total, the puck lines almost never get above 2. Not unlike what you might see in an English Premier League game, one team can dominate another and still only win by 1 or 2 goals. That makes the puck line less attractive in a number of cases.

Betting the Money Line

Playing the money line in hockey operates exactly as it does in other sports. It’s a straight win/loss bet, with the better either getting odds or giving odds depending on which team gets their bet. One thing to always remember when playing the money line is that there is juice involved. That means that if the pay is +140 on the underdog, the very best number you’ll get on the favourite is -150. The bookmaker always takes a little off the top for their troubles. And that’s why you have to do your homework. A 50% success rate means that you’re losing money.

Betting the Canadian Line

The Canadian line is a combination of both the puck line and the money line and is wager type that is unique to hockey. But just because it might be unfamiliar to you, don’t let it be intimidating. It’s quite simple to follow, and reads like this.

Blackhawks +1/2 -135

Red Wings -1/2 +115

There is a puck line, which is usually smaller than the regular puck line. And the difference in selecting a smaller puck line is offset by a money line. In the above game the Chicago Blackhawks are the underdog, but only play $100 on a $135 bet. Of course, the only way for you to know if the Canadian line is the wager type for you, do your homework.

Stanley Cup Playoffs

As sportswriter George Vescey wrote, “War of attrition, war of wills. That’s what the Stanley Cup Playoffs are–more intense, more physical, and more prolonged than the playoffs of any other sport.”

With four full rounds of seven game series to play on top of the already 82 bone crunching games of the regular season, no one is punished more than the NHL player looking to claim the Stanley Cup. Ask any NHL player if he would play another 100 games for a chance to raise the trophy that was first awarded in 1893, he would answer, “Gladly.”

Because of the history behind the trophy, and the blood and sweat that is spilled in order to win it, there is no greater set of playoffs in the world more fun to watch, or more fun to gamble on. You don’t quite get the same number of prop bets as you do with a Super Bowl. There isn’t any action on which will be longer, the singing of the American national anthem or Canadian national anthem. But you can bet on the leading scorer in the Finals, who will win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Stanley Cup Playoff MVP, how many games will go to overtime, and in what city the playoffs will end.