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Crosby, Penguins lead field on odds to win 2017 Stanley Cup

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No Stanley Cup champion has repeated since the National Hockey League became a cap league in 2005, but nevertheless the Pittsburgh Penguins have top opening odds to win the 2017 Stanley Cup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The Sidney Crosby-led Penguins became the third NHL franchise to win multiple Cups during the cap era when they wrapped a six-game series win against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday. Pittsburgh, whose most recent win was in 2009, joined the Chicago Blackhawks (2010, ’13 and ’15) and Los Angeles Kings (2012, ’14) as teams that have won more than once since the cap’s creation.

The Penguins are listed at +800 to raise the silver chalice in 2017, although GM Jim Rutherford could have to move on from some players to get under the salary cap. The Penguins could address their salary-cap crunch by trading veteran C Evgeni Malkin, breaking up the long-running superstar tandem with Crosby.

Other teams with high odds are those with a central superstar. The Chicago Blackhawks, led by RW Patrick Kane and C Jonathan Toews, are listed at +1000 after a season where they bowed out of the playoffs early. The Washington Capitals and high-scoring LW Alex Ovechkin, who have a reputation for underachieving in the playoffs, are also listed at +1000.

The St. Louis Blues, who have never won the Cup but who went to the Western Conference final, are listed at +1200. The Blues have some salary cap room to play with and will have even more if they let free-agent C David Backes sign elsewhere.

Sticking in the Western Conference, the Sharks and their Pacific Division rival Los Angeles Kings each have +1400 Stanley Cup odds. On top of not having a draining playoffs this spring, the Kings are deep in quality forwards in C Anze Kopitar, as well as players such as RW Tyler Toffoli and LW Tanner Pearson who are each moving into their peak years.

The Kings also have cap space to add key pieces this season. The Anaheim Ducks, who are listed at  +1600, could also threaten to make it three finals in a row with a California-based team.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, who are pegged at +1400, have made it to at least the Eastern Conference final for two consecutive seasons. Tampa Bay’s franchise player, C Steven Stamkos, can become a free agent on July 1. Stamkos’ departure would alter the outlook for the Lightning, but they showed their impressive depth by going deep into the playoffs while he was receiving treatment for blood clots.

The Dallas Stars, who are at +1600, were the league’s most exciting offensive show for much of the season as they led the NHL with 267 goals. The playoffs pointed out that the Stars need to upgrade their defense and goaltending if they wish to win their first Cup since 1999.

Seven of the last 11 Stanley Cup champions have hailed from the Western Conference.

Penguins heavy favorites against Senators for Thursday’s Game 7 matchup

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Betting against Sidney Crosby in a do-or-done game takes some guts, since the Pittsburgh Penguins’ history shows they find a way when their backs are against the wall.

With a spot in the Stanley Cup final at stake, the Penguins are a -200 moneyline favorite against the +170 underdog Ottawa Senators with a five-goal total for Thursday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The winner moves on to the Stanley Cup final against the Nashville Predators.

This season, Pittsburgh is 14-1 in 15 games when it was a favorite of -200 to -500 on the moneyline, according to the OddsShark NHL Database. They are also 14-3 in their last 17 home games against Ottawa, but one big reason this series has required Game 7 is that the Penguins are 1-7 on the puckline in their last eight games against the Senators.

It’s no secret that Ottawa, which is 27-21-2 on the road this season and 35-28-5 as the underdog, will rely on goalie Craig Anderson (45 saves in Game 6) and their execution of a 1-3-1 neutral zone trap. The Senators have a strong defense with Erik Karlsson, Marc Methot, Dion Phaneuf and Cody Ceci, who have helped Ottawa stay in most games..

Ottawa will try to be opportunistic and hope that the likes of RW Bobby Ryan or C Kyle Turris can produce timely goals. Ottawa has been a moneyline underdog of +150 or more nine times since the NHL all-star break. They are 4-5 in those matchups.

Pittsburgh is 37-7-6 at home this season, as well as 51-17-11 as a favorite. They are 2-0 in Game 7s under head coach Mike Sullivan (both on the road), and have outplayed Ottawa over each of the last three games.

The presence and talent of Crosby and C Evgeni Malkin might be the hole cards that give the Penguins the ability to offset several key injuries. Defenseman Justin Schultz (upper body), defenseman Chad Ruhwedel (upper body), RW Patrik Hornqvist (upper body) and RW Tom Kuhnhackl (lower body) could all miss the game on Thursday.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray has allowed only three even-strength goals in three games since taking over as the starter. The total has gone under in six of Ottawa’s last nine road games against Pittsburgh.

If Pittsburgh wins, it will be the first time the franchise has won Game 7 of a series at home after losing Game 6 on the road. Ottawa is also out to buck a historical trend as it is 0-5 all-time in Game 7s, home and away. The last was in 2012.

NHL Conference Final Odds: Penguins, Predators Series Betting Favorites

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In the wake of their latest humbling of the Washington Capitals, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are seen by oddsmakers as capable of repeating as the Stanley Cup champions.

The Penguins are listed at +175 on the latest odds to win the Stanley Cup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The Anaheim Ducks (+250) and Nashville Predators (+300), the opponents in the Western Conference final, are second and third on the board, while the Ottawa Senators (+450) draw in as the darkhorse.

No team has repeated as champions since the NHL’s salary-cap era began in 2005. Pittsburgh is also allowing 35.3 shots per game in the playoffs, which seems a tad high for a championship team. A club with speed and an agile, mobile defense corps – such as Nashville with Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and P.K. Subban – would match up well with the Penguins.

Nashville also hails from the Central Division, which has produced four of the NHL’s last nine champions.

Nashville (-125) is a slight favorite against Anaheim (+105) on the NHL series prices for the Western Conference final, which begins at Anaheim on Friday. Although the Predators are in their first conference final, they come in with one of the deepest lineups, with C Ryan Johansen and RW Viktor Arvidsson among the dangerous players on a team that does offense by committee.

Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Nashville G Pekka Rinne has also been much more consistent than Anaheim’s 24-year-old John Gibson.

Anaheim, as long as Ryan Getzlaf isn’t neutralized, is a strong veteran team. They did have a draining seven-game series in the second round against the Edmonton Oilers where the attrition included losing depth forwards Patrick Eaves and Logan Shaw.

The fact that the total has gone over in six of the Ducks’ last nine games isn’t encouraging. The total has gone over in seven of Nashville’s last 10 road games against Anaheim, with two pushes. The Ducks are listed as small -115 home favorites for Game 1 on Friday.

In the Eastern Conference series price, Pittsburgh (-300) is a massive favorite against Ottawa (+250). The combo of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin (who is the +500 favorite on the Conn Smythe Trophy odds) and Matt Cullen, man-for-man, surpasses Ottawa’s top centers, Kyle Turris, Derick Brassard and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

Pittsburgh, which is 9-1 at home against Ottawa over the last five seasons according to the OddsShark NHL Database, will need a strong offense to cover up for its suspect defense.

It might be tempting to take Ottawa and its dynamic defenseman Erik Karlsson in the series just because their price is so inviting. Ottawa has stymied two opponents by forcing teams to get through their 1-3-1 trap before testing steady goalie Craig Anderson, but frustrating a team with as much playoff experience as Pittsburgh is a tall task.