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NHL Top 5: Stanley Cup betting favorites

There are only three weeks left in the NHL regular season and teams are fighting for position like Apple geeks lining up for the new iPad 3.

The Stanley Cup futures market is still packed with value, even with most clubs showing their true colors by now.

Perhaps the strangest thing about the NHL futures odds is that the top teams in the respective conferences – the New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues – aren’t the two favorites to take Lord Stanley for a skate.

Here’s a look at the latest Stanley Cup futures and whether or not those teams are worth the wager:

Pittsburgh Penguins (+550)

Even without Sidney Crosby, the Penguins were rolling towards the top of the Eastern Conference. Evgeni Malkin finally stepped up for Pittsburgh and surprise contributions from guys like James Neal and Matt Cooke kept the Pens afloat while Crosby floated in concussion limbo.

Now, Sid the Kid is back – for the time being – and Pittsburgh looks like the best team in the NHL. Heading into Sunday, the Penguins are two points back of the Rangers, whom they just beat 5-2 Thursday night for their 10th straight victory.

Vancouver Canucks (+600)

The Canucks are the favorites out of the Western Conference despite sitting second in the conference standings – six points back of the Blues – and losing four of their last five games heading into the weekend. Vancouver is out to put last year’s seven-game loss in the Cup final behind it. In order to do so, the Canucks need to find their scoring touch.

Vancouver netted four goals in a 5-4 loss to Phoenix Wednesday – the first time they’ve netted more than three goals since Feb. 23. The Sedins need a serious wakeup call if the Canucks want to get back to the final. They’ve gone scoreless in the past nine games and have combined for only four assists in that span. 

New York Rangers (+700)

Betting value on top teams is harder to come by than Springsteen tickets, so when you can grab one of the best clubs in hockey at a discount price – do it. The Rangers are stumbling a bit, losing four of their last six games heading into the weekend, but star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist missed Thursday’s showdown with Pittsburgh due to a bout with the flu. It may have been a different outcome had he been between the pipes.

New York is very dependent on Lundqvist to stay healthy and hot in order to make a deep run in the postseason. The Rangers don’t have an explosive offense like the Penguins to make up for an off night from their netminder. However, the emergence of rookie winger Carl Hagelin and the return of Ryan Callahan will give New York more punch with the puck.

St. Louis Blues (+700)

The Blues have been the best team since the all-star break, putting together a 10-1 streak before losing back-to-back outings this week. St. Louis has the top goaltending duo in the NHL, with Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak both boasting 20-win seasons. And the Blues special teams were extra special, killing off 51 straight power plays during their winning run.

St. Louis does have some faults, however. The Blues spend far too much time in the penalty box, which appears to be catching up with them in those two losses. They are fourth in the NHL in minor penalties. Add to that the loss of center Andy McDonald to a shoulder injury. He was St. Louis’ hottest player, recording 12 points in the 10 games before getting hurt.

Detroit Red Wings (+700)

The Red Wings trail the Blues by seven points in the Central Division after notching just one win in their last six games. Detroit is plagued with injuries to its top talents, including Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Johan Franzen and goaltender Joey MacDonald. Datsyuk could return this weekend, but that is only one piece of the puzzle in Motown.

Detroit has its problems but can never be written off in the postseason – especially if it gets healthy just before the playoffs. The Red Wings need to generate more scoring chances if they want to get back to the Cup final. They’ve netted just seven total goals in those last five losses and has gone seven games without a power-play goal – 0 for 28 since Feb. 28.

Other Stanley Cup favorites:

Boston Bruins (+800)
Philadelphia Flyers (+1,300)
Nashville Predators (+1,300)
Chicago Blackhawks (+1,600)

Odds provided by SportsInteraction.com.

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