2022 NHL playoffs and Stanley Cup odds, picks and predictions: It's finally the Avalanche's time

It’s been a long road to get to this point but after two COVID-affected years, followed by the usual grind of an 82-game regular season, the NHL playoffs are finally back in all their glory. We’ve cut away the fat and all that remains are the top 16 teams in hockey, all vying for that one goal; to lift the Stanley Cup.

Trying to keep up with the Florida Panthers, Colorado Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes and others proved an impossible task for many teams, but we now get to see these exceptional teams battle it out for supremacy.

Get all the info you need for the NHL Playoffs, including the schedule, key dates and how to watch

2022 Stanley Cup winner pick: Colorado Avalanche (+320)

At the start of the season, I suggested this was the year a stacked Colorado Avalanche roster justified being favorites for Lord Stanley’s Mug, and I’ve seen little to change my mind.

The Avs had to come through a testing start to the season, stuttering out of the blocks as the injuries piled up. They’ve had to cope without the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri, and Gabriel Landeskog, amongst others, for stretches of the season, and yet, they’ve still managed to clinch the top spot in the Western Conference.

The Avs have looked phenomenal in the second half of the NHL season. Since the start of 2022, Colorado has a 38-9-4 record and lead the league in points during that time. They’ve eased off since clinching first place in the conference but have the quality to pick up from where they left off once the playoffs resume.

Given how they started, the fact the Avalanche rank fourth in goals per game, seventh in goals allowed and have the third-best goal differential is testament to how hot they’ve got since the turn of the year. They are the only team in the league to have four players in the top 21 point-scorers — Mikko Rantanen, MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Nazem Kadri — with no other franchise having more than two individuals in the top 21. They also have five players averaging a point per game this season; no other team even has four.

Between the pipes, Darcy Kuemper is seventh in save percentage having found some form following his own rocky start. He’s second in the league in SV% (.930) since January and even if he has an off-night, the Avs have the firepower to shoot their way out of trouble.

As if we didn’t have enough examples of how dominant the Avs have been this season, from a betting standpoint, no team has covered the puck line more as a favorite, while betting a unit on them in all home games this season would have shown a 114% return on investment.

Combine a stacked roster with a relatively weak Western Conference and it’s tough to argue with oddsmakers having Colorado as favorites to win the Stanley Cup. The Wild will certainly be no easy prospect if the playoffs go to form and a showdown with the Flames in the Conference Finals could prove tight, but this is an Avalanche team that’s already shown togetherness and mental toughness, to go with their exceptional skills, that should banish memories of recent playoff heartache.

Eastern Conference Champion: Carolina Hurricanes (+550)

Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes

In my opinion, the Western Conference has only three genuine cup contenders — the Avs, Flames and Wild — and are significantly outnumbered by their Eastern counterparts in that regard. All eight playoff teams in the East have hit 100 points in the regular season, and have the top representative in terms of goals scored, goals allowed, power play goals and penalty killing.

Leading the charge are the Florida Panthers, who are on course to wrap up the Presidents Trophy. No team has scored more goals, has a better goal difference or averages more goals per game (4.16) than the Panthers and oddsmakers have them second-favorites for the cup at +550, while they are +250 to win the East.

The Panthers are heading into the playoffs with a head of steam too and while I’ve been big fans of Florida for a while, they are worth opposing, if for no other reason than since 1984-85 only eight teams have done the Presidents Cup-Stanley Cup double.

Picking someone to go up against the Panthers isn’t easy but the Hurricanes certainly tick enough boxes to suggest they can win the slugfest that is the Eastern Conference. The Canes surpassed the 100-point mark for only the second time in franchise history and look like a team ready to make a run having gathered valuable playoff experience over the last three years.

The strength of the team is unquestionably the defense, which ranks number one in goals against (2.83) and shots allowed per game (28.08). Their strong play on the blue line extends to power plays too with no team having a better penalty kill percentage (87.82%).

Given they lost arguably their best defensemen, Dougie Hamilton, in the offseason, it’s been some effort by the likes of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, who are ably supported by a strong goaltending tandem of Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta. There are some concerns over the health of both netminders heading into the playoffs but it’s hoped they’ll be cleared, paving the way for Andersen to pick up where he left off with a .922 SV%.

The Canes are solid on the road too and while their offense might not be as deep as some in the East, they create high-quality chances. They rank fifth overall for expected goals 5v5 this season and if they can be a little more clinical in front of goal then this team has the grit and determination to make a deep run.

At Pickswise we cover every morsel of NHL action with daily NHL Picks and Predictions throughout the season. Be sure to also check out our NHL Best Bets for those NHL top picks.

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