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With the Mid-Season in the Rear View, Who Are the Stanley Cup Hopefuls?

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Klim Musalimov

We now move into the second half of what is proving to be a gripping NHL season. With our top pack of cross-conference teams split by only 5 points, the latest odds from bookmakers such as Sports Interaction point to a field in which there’s everything to play as we begin the final run into the playoffs. Accordingly, we’re taking a moment here to break down the trials and tribulations of our front runners thus far, and analyze their realistic chances of pulling ahead as we move toward the 2021–22 season conclusion.

Central Division

The Avalanche are currently leading the entire league in terms of points and had an impressive winning streak to boot. They made it to the second round of playoffs in 2021 before succumbing to the Golden Knights in a six-game series loss. In spite of this, they remain one of the most viable challengers to the dominance of the Lightning and are taking no prisoners on their path to the Finals. 

The Minnesota Wild are currently second in the Central Division but are trailing Colorado by a pretty wide margin right now. In spite of this, they’re still holding their own and after making it to the first round of the playoffs last year and will undoubtedly be looking to build on that success while holding off other division hopefuls such as the Nashville Predators. 

Pacific Division

Las Vegas’ Golden Knights experienced a great run of successes last year, making it to the Semi-finals where they were defeated by the Montreal Canadiens. Before that they knocked out seasoned sides Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche, demonstrating that they’re again strongly in contention for this year’s playoffs, especially with the addition of Jack Eichel.

Calgary Flames are running in second place in the Pacific Division this year, igniting the hopes of fans that they may squeeze their way through to the play-off table. They will have their work cut out, especially given the fact they’re neatly tied for points with the LA Kings and Anaheim Ducks.

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Atlantic Division

Defending champions Tampa Bay Lighting are understandably a strong contender for this season’s trophy, with a great performance already this year ensuring they’re once again among the top flight of teams in the Eastern Conference. Coming off the back of two consecutive Stanley Cup championship wins, the weight of pressure is on the squad to maintain the same caliber of hockey into the playoffs. 

The Florida Panthers made it all the way to the playoffs last year before being unceremoniously knocked out by defending champions Lightning. At this moment, the Panthers are leading the Atlantic division and eking out a slightly better performance than their key rivals, but need to pull away significantly if they’re hoping to rattle the confidence of the returning trophy holders.

Metropolitan Division

The Pittsburgh Penguins have put in a strong performance this year in the hotly contested Metropolitan division. They will be hoping to build on the successes of last year that saw them make it to the first-round playoffs before losing out to the NY Islanders. They will also have to reckon with their division mates, the Hurricanes, who made it deeper into the playoffs in the previous season.

Hot on the heels of the Penguins come the Carolina Hurricanes who put in a strong performance last year, making it to the second round before having their championship hopes dashed by the formidable Tampa Bay roster. Still, we can expect the Hurricane to be among the top flight of teams when this year’s main season concludes, given their capable standing in this year’s division.

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Adrian Dater - Kiss and Larry Bird fan. Writer with @Gambling and @Bookies, Avs Insider with 104.3 The Fan. Denver Post, SI, Bleacher Report alum, author of seven books.

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