The San Jose Sharks enter the National Hockey League playoffs as favorites to win their first Stanley Cup title, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers.
The NHL’s postseason begins tonight with games in four of the eight first-round series.
After finishing with a league-best 53-18-11 record for 117 points this season, the Sharks have odds of 4-1 to win the Stanley Cup, according to Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which advises Nevada sports books on gambling lines. The Sharks lost in the second round the past three years, including last season, when they had the second-best record in the NHL.
“San Jose is ready to make the leap,” NBC hockey analyst Mike Milbury said on a conference call. “They’ve shown some good character and resilience, and they’ve got all the ingredients to get there. They just have to prove that they have the character, the mettle.”
The defending-champion Detroit Red Wings are a close second favorite behind the Sharks at 9-2, meaning a winning US$100 bet would return US$450 plus the initial stake.
The Boston Bruins are third among the NHL’s 16 playoff teams with odds of 5-1, followed by the Washington Capitals at 6-1, New Jersey Devils at 8-1 and Pittsburgh Penguins at 9-1.
The Sharks, the top seed in the Western Conference, host Game 1 of their best-of-seven series tomorrow against Anaheim. The Ducks, who two years ago won the Stanley Cup, slipped into the playoffs after winning 10 of their past 13 games.
The Sharks “wind up with a team that’s nasty and dirty, has got a Cup under their belts and has played their best hockey in the last month or so of the season,” Milbury said. “That one stacks up as a real test of character for San Jose. If they can get through it, especially if they can get through it quickly, I really like their chances going forward.”
Boston, the top team in the East, opens today against the Montreal Canadiens. The other three Eastern Conference series began yesterday, with the Devils, New York Rangers and Penguins all in action. The Devils hosted the Carolina Hurricanes, while the Rangers visited the Capitals, who are the second seed in the East. The Penguins hosted the Philadelphia Flyers in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals.
In yesterday’s Western Conference opener, the Vancouver Canucks hosted the St Louis Blues.