Lightning Stanley Cup favorites, but look out for Maple Leafs
The defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning have bolted to the top of the board for Stanley Cup outright odds at TwinSpires Sports.
But right behind Tampa Bay are the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are beginning to run away with the North Division, which is comprised of all seven Canadian NHL clubs. The Maple Leafs have seen their odds swing significantly, and they are in a neck-and-neck race with Tampa Bay.
Two teams that would have under normal circumstances been competing for the Eastern Conference title, under the new format brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tampa and Toronto could face each other in the Stanley Cup Finals.
NHL Championship 2020/2021
Tue, May 11 2021, 3:58 AM
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
Vegas Golden Knights
New York Islanders
Lightning in familiar territory, but they can get better
This is nothing new for the Lightning, which started the season with odds of +750 to defend their Stanley Cup title.
Tampa has been a perennial contender in the Eastern Conference for several years and won the Stanley Cup last summer, following a months-long disruption to the NHL season brought on by the pandemic.
The Lightning has once again staked its claim as the team to beat and has a share of the Central Division lead, thanks to five straight wins. Tampa ranks second in the NHL at 3.55 goals per game, but what is becoming even more impressive is its ability to keep pucks out of its own net.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has been nearly unbeatable this season. In 17 starts, Vasilevskiy has allowed just 28 goals and is rocking a .942 save percentage, the best of any goaltender with more than five starts this season.
Andrei Vasilevskiy’s stats this season are 🤯 :— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) March 3, 2021
•Won 13 of them
•28 total goals against
•.941 overall save %
•.950 5v5 save %
•+15 goals saved above expected via Evolving Hockey
•Has stopped 91 straight shots over his last 200:26 of game time
But the Lightning could get even better when it matters most.
Nikita Kucherov, who has scored at least 30 goals in each of the last five seasons, has not played a game this year, after he underwent hip surgery in December. He was expected to miss the entire regular season, but there was optimism from the Lightning, prior to the start of the campaign, that their 27-year-old scorer would be back in time for playoffs.
That could be trouble for opposing teams. The only problem for bettors is the time to maximize value on the Lightning may have already passed. Barring a significant slide in the standings, it is unlikely Tampa's outright odds move to +1000 or more.
Maple Leafs' Stanley Cup odds shift again
Is this the year the Maple Leafs end their Stanley Cup drought? We asked this a couple weeks ago, when Toronto’s odds were +1000 at TwinSpires Sports.
The Maple Leafs are nearing a double-digit point lead in the North Division, with seven wins in their last 10 games, including four in a row. Their run of success has moved their odds from +1100 at the beginning of the season, to +1000 two weeks ago, and finally the current number of +550.
After a brief absence from the lineup because of a wrist injury, Auston Matthews returned to action Wednesday. Despite this injury situation, involving their best player and the current favorite to win the Maurice 'Rocket' Richard Trophy, the Maple Leafs have continued to roll through the North.
Much like the Lightning, the Maple Leafs have done a great job scoring, which is not a surprise, given the talent up front. But they have also played much better defensively, with only 2.33 goals allowed per game, the fourth best average in the NHL.
Could that last point be a sign they will be ready to take a major step forward in the playoffs?