In the NBA, it’s death, taxes and the Golden State Warriors winning the championship. In Major League Baseball, it’s the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs -- the big-market teams -- that usually are there at the end. In the NFL, it’s been Tom Brady and the Patriots.
In the NHL playoffs? It’s the place where upsets often happen, the place where the seemingly surefire bets get spoiled. The bottom-line advice for fans of Stanley Cup betting is: be careful.
From 2003-18, of the last 15 winners of the NHL’s President’s Trophy, given to the team with the best regular-season record, only three have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. The Washington Capitals actually pulled off the feat in 2018, but before that only the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks and the 2008 Detroit Red Wings.
Many top-seeded teams, in fact, have been bounced from the playoffs in the early rounds, and many lower-seeded teams have either won the Cup or advanced to the finals. In 2017, the eighth-seeded Nashville Predators swept top-seeded Chicago in the first round and made it to the Cup finals before losing to Pittsburgh.
In 2012, the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings won the Cup. In 2006, the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers beat Detroit in the first round and went to the seventh game of the Cup finals before losing to Carolina.
There have been several dynasties in the history of the NHL, but in the modern era, it arguably has yet to happen. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks did win three Stanley Cups each, from 2009-17, but only Pittsburgh did it back-to-back and prior to that it hadn’t happened since 1997-98, by Detroit.
Why do favorites so often lose in the NHL playoffs? There are several reasons, not the least of which is that the NHL might have the most parity among all the teams of any league these days. There just hasn’t been a lot separating the teams, especially in the salary cap era.
And, as fans of NHL betting know, the NHL playoffs are a grueling two-month battle where two teams can play as many as 28 games. Injuries to top players often occur, which can swing momentum in a series.
A hot goalie can single-handedly be the difference in upsets of top teams, such as when Jean-Sebastien Giguere led a lower-seeded Anaheim team to the Cup finals in 2003, or when Dwayne Roloson did it for Edmonton in 2006.
In the NBA, usually only five to eight guys per team have a real say in the outcome of games in the playoffs. In the NHL, 19 guys have roles, and it takes all of them to win a Cup. In the NFL, a quarterback has most of the control, and in baseball, pitchers can often dominate a game.
You’ll get arguments from fans of the other leagues that theirs is as much a team sport as any other, but hockey probably has the best argument that it’s the truest team sport.
The “Stanley Cup Hangover” seems to zap a lot of teams, at least until Pittsburgh finally won back-to-back championships in 2016 and 17. All of the factors listed above are contributors to that, but there other things to consider when considering bets on the NHL playoffs:
In the end, the unpredictability of the NHL playoffs is a big factor in its wider appeal than the regular season - and also why it’s so tough to bet on.
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