With the NHL regular season drawing to a close, the big question on everyone’s lips is: Can anyone stop Tampa Bay? The Lightning have opened up a 19-point gap on their nearest rivals. They’ve had the luxury of being able to prepare for the post-season while all the other teams are still battling it out for playoff positioning.
Lightning Lead NHL Betting Odds
Not surprisingly for a team that’s so far ahead in the NHL standings, the Tampa Bay Lightning are clear favorites in sports betting. The Lightning are 3.50 in NHL title odds, well ahead of the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks at 10.00 and the Calgary Flames at 12.00.
In 2018/19 Eastern Conference championship betting, the Lightning are paying 2.25, followed by the Bruins on 6.00, and the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals on 8.00. The Western Conference is evenly matched, with the San Jose Sharks paying 4.00, followed by the Calgary Flames, 4.75, Vegas Golden Knights, 6.00, and Nashville Predators, 7.00.
The market for the Atlantic Conference is closed, due to the Lightning’s 19-point lead over the Bruins. But the other divisional races are still wide open, particularly the Pacific Division, where Calgary are 1.71 to hold on to their lead over the San Jose Sharks, who are paying 2.02.
Can Anyone Stop Tampa Bay?
The Lightning’s regular season dominance doesn’t guarantee them anything come the playoffs. As some commentators have even noted on this website, the Lightning should be aware of NHL history.
Yes, the Lightning are a powerhouse. They have easily the most-productive offence in the league, thanks to the likes of Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, and Brayden Point. And they have the third- stingiest defence, led by star defensemen Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
But the road to the Stanley Cup is filled with teams that dominated the regular season only to fall in the playoffs. In fact, winning the Presidents’ Cup for the best record in the regular season doesn’t even guarantee a team will get out of the first round of the playoffs: just ask the 2008-9 San Jose Sharks, who dominated the regular season with 117 points, only to lose 4-2 to the Western Conference’s eighth seed, the Anaheim Ducks, in the first round.
And let’s not forget that the Lightning finished top of the East last year but lost 4-3 to eventual champs the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference finals.
Flames, Sharks, Bruins Rivals to Tampa Bay
If anyone can challenge Tampa Bay for the title, who will it be? It looks likely the Lightning will play one of the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, or Montreal Canadiens in the first round. Even if one of those teams can cause an upset, it’s unlikely they’ll progress all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The likeliest contenders for the NHL 2018-19 title are the Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Capitals in the East, and the Flames, Sharks, Jets, and Predators in the West. Given Tampa Bay’s dominance in the East, it may well take a Western Conference team of the likes of the Calgary Flames or San Jose Sharks to bring down Tampa Bay at the final stage.
The Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets are still smarting over last season, when they finished top two in the West in the regular season only for Vegas to make the Stanley Cup Finals. Both teams would prove to be tough competition for the Lightning if they make it to the final round of this year’s NHL playoffs.
Main Photo: NEW YORK, NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 27: Victor Hedman #77 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates with his team after scoring the winning overtime goal against the New York Rangers during their game at Madison Square Garden on February 27, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)