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Jets are the New Stanley Cup Favorites After NHL Conference Semifinals

Aaron Gray

by Aaron Gray in NHL Hockey

Updated Jan 4, 2023 · 3:16 AM PST

winnipeg jet celebrate stanley cup futures 2018
  • The Jets are the de facto favorites for the Stanley Cup, both among oddsmakers and media pundits
  • Will Vegas triumph over a bruising and skilled Jets squad?
  • Will Marc-Andre Fleury and Brayden Holtby continue their surprisingly dominant performances into the conference finals?

The second round of the playoffs has come and gone, and what a round it was. Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals slayed the dragon, the Jets stunned Nashville on home ice in a thrilling game 7, the Lightning dispatched the Bruins in 5 despite Brad Marchand’s licks, and Fleury and the Knights shut out the Sharks on home ice to win in six.

With only four remaining teams, all a mere eight wins away from capturing Lord Stanley’s Cup, odds have dramatically shortened. For a more comprehensive look at how each team’s odds have ebbed and flowed throughout the season, check out our NHL Stanley Cup Futures Tracker.

Can Ovechkin and the Capitals Overcome Injuries to Key Players?

We don’t think so. This series belongs to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are a complete team in every facet of the game.

It’s no fault of the Capitals, who’ve had a terrific season and finally beat Pittsburgh Penguins after losing to them in the second round in both 2016 and 2017. Since their inception in 1974, the Capitals have faced the Penguins in the playoffs twelve times, losing all but two of those series.

Many wrote off the Capitals in the off-season, after they lost key contributors Justin Williams, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Karl Alzner to free agency.

The Capitals have surpassed all expectations by beating the reigning cup champs, but their chances of beating a loaded Tampa Bay Lightning squad that’s gelling at the right time are slim, especially with no. 1 center Nicklas Backstrom missing time with a hand injury that sure doesn’t look good. 

However, since taking over for Phillipe Grubauer in Game 3 of the first round, Brayden Holtby has been nothing short of spectacular, reclaiming his rightful spot in Washington’s creases. He’s going to need to continue to provide Conn Smythe-level goaltending to give the Capitals even the most infinitesimal chance of overcoming the Lightning.

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Braden Holtby was spectacular in defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In contrast to the Capitals, the Lightning went into the season knowing that anything less than a cup win would be a disappointment. They’ve gotten to the third round playing only 10 games, and everything looks good for them so far. They’re getting contributions from all areas of their lineup, and they’re a team with no discernible weaknesses.

The Tampa Bay Lighting’s deadline acquisitions of JT Miller and Ryan McDonough are fitting in perfectly in Tampa. Even Tampa AGM Julien Brisebois was quoted as saying that Tampa couldn’t have gotten over the hump without their two newly acquired stars. 

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When the star-studded line of Kucherov-Stamkos-Miller isn’t burning you, Brayden Point (3G, 4A in 5 games) and his linemates are. Their scoring depth, combined with an experienced, mobile defense led by Victor Hedman and Vezina candidate Andrei Vasilseky, makes Tampa the heavy favorite over an injury-depleted Washington team.

Will Fleury and the Knights Best Winnipeg on the Way to One of the Most Memorable Seasons Ever?

Few people (including oddsmakers, evidently) saw the Knights making it to the NHL semifinals, especially versus a Jets team that finished 20th in the league the season prior. The fact that these two teams are squaring off for a Cup finals berth really speaks to the parity in today’s NHL, and how the 2017-18 season has been defined by underdogs eclipsing expectations, time and time again.

Vegas, just like the Lightning, are totally healthy and firing on all cylinders heading into the conference finals. They’re a truly remarkable team to watch, given that their speed on all four forward lines makes them a threat to score at all times. While the whole team impressed by showing their resilience against the playoff battle-hardened Sharks, the Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith line once again showed that they’re nearly unstoppable.

Marc-Andre Fleury is playing the best hockey of his career at the age of 33, and he’s already a front-runner for the Conn Smythe should Vegas triumph over the Jets.

However, the Jets are also healthy and ready to nab a spot in the Cup Final for the first time in franchise history. Listening to too much hockey media would lead you to believe that the league was planning on awarding the Stanley Cup to the winner of Jets-Predators series, but things won’t be quite that easy for the Jets.

That being said, we really like the Jets’ chances against Vegas. Vegas has the edge in team speed and perhaps in net (although Conor Hellebuyck did have 44 wins in the regular season and has been tremendous so far), but the Jets are the biggest team in the league and have truly top-end skill everywhere in their line-up.

Vegas seems to score a lot on due to their neutral zone counterpunch and a tenacious forecheck, the Jets seem to score in nearly every way you can. They’re a threat on the powerplay, on the rush, and from the blue-line, and on the cycle down low. We’re not saying that Vegas’ scoring is one-dimensional, they just aren’t quite as lethal as the Jets on offense.

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No one has been able to neutralize Vegas’ speed thus far in the playoffs, but if anyone can do it, it’s the Jets’ brawny defense. Plus, Mark Schiefle is the best player in the NHL no one knows about, and he’s got an ability to be a true game breaker.

Vegas has faced good teams so far in both the Kings and the Sharks, but they haven’t faced anyone nearly as dynamic or complete as the Jets so far. By our estimation, Vegas’ storybook run will come to an end at the hands of the Jets.

Each Team’s Implied Probability of Winning The Cup

Let’s take a look at the implied probability of each remaining team winning the Cup according to the sportsbooks we review. 

It’s been a year of surprises and underdogs in the NHL, but as we get within one round of the Stanley Cup Finals, we think things are a little easier to predict.

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