Blackhawks Start NHL Playoffs as Second-Favorite Behind Penguins

The Chicago Blackhawks tonight begin their attempt to avoid a third straight first-round exit in the Stanley Cup playoffs after a season in which they posted the National Hockey League’s best record.

The top seed in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks (36-7-5) opened the regular season by recording at least one point in 24 consecutive games, an NHL record. They start the playoffs tonight by hosting the Minnesota Wild in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series.

Chicago, which is led by Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, enters the postseason with 7-2 odds of winning the Stanley Cup for the second time in four years, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s Superbook. The Pittsburgh Penguins, the top seed in the East, are the oddsmakers’ favorite at 3-1. The New York Rangers have 16-1 odds of winning the Stanley Cup.

“It amps up a little bit in the playoffs,” Kane told reporters after the end of the regular season, which was shortened to 48 games by a lockout. “It seems like the season went by pretty quick, but everybody is excited to get this thing going and hopefully we start it off right.”

While the Blackhawks won the Presidents’ Trophy for having the NHL’s best record, the Wild (26-19-3) were the last team to make the playoff field. Chicago won two of three meetings during the regular season.

Since winning their first Stanley Cup title in 49 years after the 2009-10 season, the Blackhawks have been beaten in the opening round of the playoffs the past two seasons.

“When you look at the season we’ve had, the success we’ve had and the expectations that are in place, we should all be motivated to continue on in what we accomplished this season,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.

Penguins Losses

The Penguins also lost their first-round playoff series the past two years. They face the New York Islanders in a best-of-seven series that begins tomorrow, and All-Star center Sidney Crosby could be back for Pittsburgh after missing the final 12 games of the regular season with a broken jaw.

In today’s other two NHL playoff games -- both in the Western Conference -- the Anaheim Ducks host the Detroit Red Wings and the defending Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings visit the St. Louis Blues.

The final matchup in the West begins tomorrow, as the Vancouver Canucks host the San Jose Sharks.

Eastern Matchups

In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins host the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1 of their series tomorrow, while the New York Rangers visit the Washington Capitals in their series opener on May 2. Also in two days, the Montreal Canadiens are home to the Ottawa Senators.

The Canadiens and Bruins are the oddsmakers’ third choice to win the Stanley Cup, with 8-1 odds, followed by the Ducks at 10-1 and the Blues and Canucks at 12-1.

The Kings have 14-1 odds of becoming the first team to repeat as champions since the 1997-98 Red Wings. The Rangers, Sharks and Capitals are listed at 16-1, followed by the Maple Leafs and Red Wings at 30-1, the Senators at 40-1 and the two eighth seeds, the Islanders and Wild, are Stanley Cup long shots at 50-1, according to LVH Super Book.

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