The Los Angeles Kings just completed one of the greatest runs in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to capture their first NHL Championship since joining the league as an expansion club in 1966. While this is clearly the biggest story of the 2011/2012 NHL season, there were quite a few other subplots that made it one of the most exciting campaigns in the storied history of the league. The following is a brief look back at a few of the top story lines of a season to remember in the NHL.
The Regular Season Round-Up
Bovada opened Vancouver as a +700 favorite to win the Stanley Cup, which were the best odds of any team from the Western Conference and opened Washington in the Eastern Conference as the top favorite at +700. The Canucks held true to form with an overall record of 51-22-9 and a total of 111 points, which were the most in the NHL. St. Louis ended-up second in the West with 109 points to win the Central Division and the Phoenix Coyotes won the Pacific Division with 97 points. The rest of the playoff teams in the West were Nashville, Detroit, Chicago, San Jose, and Los Angeles.
The New York Rangers, who opened at +3000 to win it all, finished as the top team in both the highly competitive Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference with 109 points and an overall record of 51-24-7. The defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins were +1000 to win back-to-back titles. They won the Central Division and earned the No.2-seed in the East with 102 points. Florida edged-out the Capitals by two points with a total of 94 points to win the Southeast Division and secure the third seed in the conference. The rest of the playoff field in the East was comprised of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Washington and Ottawa.
Personally over the course of the season I did most of my betting from a mobile phone (my handy iPhone) which made things very easy when betting on the NHL games nightly.
The Quest for the Cup
The Canucks opened as 9/5 favorites to win the West and 11/2 favorites to win the Cup but their stay in the postseason was cut painfully short with a loss to the Kings in the first round in just five games. The Blues were the second favorite to win the West at 3/1 but met the same fate in the conference semifinals when they were swept in four games by LA. The Coyotes might have been the third seed in the conference but they had the longest odds to win the West at 18/1. They lasted all of five games against the Kings in the conference finals.
The Penguins were the hottest team in the NHL down the stretch and opened at 9/5 to win the East and 4/1 to win it all. They fell behind 0-3 in their first round matchup against Philadelphia and went down swinging in six games. The second-favorite to win the East were the Rangers at 11/2 but they could not get by the Devils in the conference finals. New Jersey opened at 12/1 to win the conference and 25/1 to hoist the Cup. It squeaked by the Panthers in the first round in seven games but got on a roll by eliminating the Flyers in five games in the conference semifinals and the Rangers in six games to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. After falling behind three games to none to the Kings, it was able to stretch the series to a Game 6 before falling 6-1 to the eventual champions.
Top Player Performances
Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin led the NHL in the regular season in scoring with 109 points (59 goals, 59 assists) followed by Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, who tallied 97 points (60 goals, 37 assists). The Flyers Claude Giroux was third with 93 points and Ottawa’s Jason Spezza (84 points) and the Devils Ilya Kovalchuk (83 points) rounded-out the top five. The Kings Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar each tallied 20 points in the postseason to lead all scorers. Kovalchuk was third with 19 points and Giroux posted 17 points in just 11 playoff games.
The top goalie in the NHL regular season in both save percentage (.940) and goals-against-average (1.56) was the Blues Brian Elliott. Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick finished the regular season with the second-best GAA (1.95) and fifth-best save percentage (.929) in the league, but he saved his best for when it counted the most with a dominating GAA of 1.41 and .946 save percentage in the postseason. This performance earned Quick this season’s Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.