When it comes to the NHL playoffs, it’s always hard to predict who is going to come out on top.
It’s one of the most even playing fields among postseasons, with parity across the board. It always feels as though every team has a chance to make a run at the Stanley Cup.
All you need to do is look at last season. The Canadiens came into the playoffs with the worst record among the 16 competitors. But they got hot at the right time, taking down the Maple Leafs, Jets and Golden Knights before losing in the Stanley Cup Final to the Lightning.
So who will be that Cinderella team this year? The oddsmakers at Sports Interaction give most teams good odds to win it all. In fact, 12 of the 16 teams have +2000 or better odds to come out on top.
But there are four teams that are placed well behind the pack by Sports Interaction — the Capitals, Stars, Predators and Kings.
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In a stacked Eastern Conference, the Capitals are the lone team that the oddsmakers do not seem to have faith in. They are set to battle with the Panthers in the first round.
In the West, the Kings, Predators and Stars are the three postseason teams that did not hit 100 points. The Kings have a matchup with the Oilers in the first round, while the Predators face the Flames and the Stars are going against the Avalanche.
It’s understandable why these teams are viewed as underdogs this postseason, but as we’ve learned, you can never count anyone out during the NHL playoffs.
Washington Capitals (+3900)
Washington begins its postseason with a first-round matchup against the Panthers. The Capitals are tasked with stopping the most dangerous offense without having a clear-cut starter in net. Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov split time this season, with each goalie getting 39 starts. Vanacek owned a better goals-against average and save percentage, but neither were overly impressive.
While the goaltending is unclear, the biggest concern for the Capitals is the health of Alex Ovechkin. The Washington captain hurt his shoulder during the final week of the regular season. He skated once ahead of Game 1 and looks to be in line to play.
However, if he hurts the shoulder again, or his play suffers because he’s not 100%, it will be an even larger uphill battle for the Caps. Ovechkin led the team with 90 points and 50 goals this season and was the Conn Smythe winner in 2018 when the club won its first Cup. The Capitals are a lot less dangerous without the Great 8 in the lineup.
If one of the goaltenders can take over the reins as the starter and Washington gets a completely healthy version of Ovechkin, the Capitals could make a push for the Cup. They’ve been overlooked as the outsider in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Maybe they can use that to their advantage.
The key for a run: Ovechkin stays healthy and leads the playoffs in goals
MORE: Ovechkin update: Capitals ‘do not know’ if captain will be ready for playoffs
Los Angeles Kings (+4300)
After missing the playoffs the past three seasons, the Kings are eyeing their first postseason series win since they won the Stanley Cup in 2012.
A pleasant mix of veterans and prospects have come together to find success. The tandem of Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen has been extremely solid in net, making Los Angeles one of the better defensive teams in the league this season.
Standing in their way in the first round are the Oilers. The series will be a great test for both teams. Edmonton is in desperate need of a playoff series win, and while going against Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Co. is never easy, the Kings have played them quite well this season.
The problem is the disparity in offense. There just isn’t a way for the Kings to keep up with if their defense falters. In fact, Los Angeles comes in with the second-lowest goals-per-game average among the 16 postseason clubs.
It will be all about the defense for the Kings, and they’ll start out by going against the best offensive duo in the NHL.
The key for a run: Quick turns back the clock to 2012 and the Kings’ defense shuts down their opposition.
Nashville Predators (+4500)
Everything seems to finally be clicking for Nashville. Roman Josi has had a Norris Trophy-worthy season, Matt Duchene is finally playing up to his contract and Filip Forsberg is balling out in a contract year. It feels as though the Preds are better than the No. 8 team in the West.
But the backbone of Nashville’s success this season has been goaltender Juuse Saros, and he is likely out multiple weeks with a high ankle sprain. That’s brutal news for the Predators, because 38 of the 45 wins this season came with Saros in net.
They will now turn to David Rittich, who did not have a good season as the backup. He started just 18 games, going 6-3-4 with a 3.57 GAA and .886 save percentage.
With Rittich a liability in net, the Predators face a difficult task in the first round. They will have to be on their A-game on defense against the highest-scoring offense in the Western Conference and the team that scored at the second-highest clip in the league.
But if Nashville can get by Colorado, it’s likely it will have faced its toughest test in the first round and can build off the upset in the later rounds.
The key for a run: Rittich vastly improves from the regular season and steals multiple series
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Dallas Stars (+4800)
The Stars were able to snag one of the two wild-card spots in the West, beating out the Golden Knights in the final days of the regular season.
Up next is a date with the Pacific Division champion Flames. Calgary allowed 2.51 goals per game in the regular season, the third-lowest mark in the league. That’s not great news for a Stars team that averaged 2.83 goals per game, the lowest mark of any playoff team.
Dallas relies heavily on the trio of Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski, who have been one of the best forward lines in the league this season. Unfortunately, it relies on them a little too much. The team scored 229 goals in the regular season; that line had 104 of them. That’s 45 percent of the failed goals coming from just three players.
With that in mind, the Flames ‘game plan will be to shut down the Stars’ top line. The group is good enough to potentially steal a series or two, but the Stars need scoring depth if they really want to make it far in the playoffs. .
The key for a run: Dallas finally gets offense from players not named Robertson, Hintz or Pavelski.