The NHL Starts The Stretch Drive

The NHL returns to action tonight after being off since February 9 for the Olympics in Sochi. The regular season runs to April 13 and TheSportsNotebook has been preparing for the stretch run with a series of articles over the past week that have focused in specifically on the top contenders, along with checking on several of the longshots that always have a chance in this sport.

I’ve posted links to all the articles that were part of TheSportsNotebook’s NHL Olympic Break Extravaganza—or mini-extravaganza anyway. The Cliff’s Notes version of them all is the following…

*Four teams are congregated near the top of the betting lines as quad-favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Chicago and Pittsburgh have been there all year, and St. Louis and Anaheim have each played their way to that status.

*Boston and San Jose are the live challengers coming out of each conference.

*When you look at the playoff bubble and the teams with longer championship odds, the Los Angeles Kings clearly stand out. Though they sit #7 in the West today, this is a team only two years removed from the 2012 Stanley Cup and with an elite goaltender in Jonathan Quick who demonstrated last year that he could flip the switch after a mediocre regular season and get it going in the playoffs.

 Download Windy City Ride today at Amazon

*Seven teams are in the status of true longshots and we have to be surprisingly generous to even put the Detroit Red Wings on that list.

*The notable injury developments right now are Detroit’s loss of Henrik Zetterberg for the year. On the flip side, Tampa Bay is set to get Steven Stamkos back in the early part of March.

*The injury to New York Islanders center John Tavares got attention during the Olympics because of the ruckus raised by Islanders ownership, but while Tavares is very good, the bigger ruckus should be about how badly the Islanders have underachieved—they weren’t going to make the playoffs with Tavares.

*The MVP race is going to be close. Sidney Crosby for Pittsburgh and Ryan Getzlaff for Anaheim lead in points, but neither are scorers. Alex Ovechkin is running away with another scoring title and Phil Kessel is carrying Toronto into the playoffs. If you like goalies as much as I do, don’t overlook Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, who has kept the Lightning in strong contention even with Stamkos out most of the year.

Below are the links to the nine articles ran over the past week…

Stanley Cup Betting Odds
Chicago Blackhawks
Pittsburgh Penguins
St. Louis Blues
Anaheim Mighty Ducks
Boston Bruins
San Jose Sharks
Los Angeles Kings
Seven Stanley Cup Longshots