Punting on the Puck

Despite being an exciting, fast-paced sport with plenty of twists and turns, ice hockey has a limited following in the United Kingdom. Although there are some diehard fans who tune into NHL and AHL games week in week out, many don't look at professional hockey as a gambling option. But with so many possible winners, predictable outcomes and statistics galore, there are hundreds of opportunities to win big.

The season, so far, has been a bit different to what fans anticipated in the preseason, with some expected star performances and a few interesting team choices. The Columbus Blue Jackets, for example, who have a distinctly unremarkable history in the NHL, are having a great season, sitting second in the Eastern Metropolitan Division. Their fixture against Minnesota Wild on New Year's Eve, which was a record 15th straight win in a row, may just be the best game of the season. Their performance so far is a welcome change from the dull management and below-average player quality seen in previous years. Although they are still 30-1 to lift the Stanley Cup, they could well be a dark horse if they manage to reach the playoffs.

It's business as usual in the Atlantic Division, with the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, and Toronto Maple Leafs in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, with plenty to play for. The Canadiens were tipped for post-season action before the start of the season and haven't disappointed so far, tipped at 14-1 to lift the Stanley Cup.

The Washington Capitals are still the 888sports favorites with 7.1 odds, however, leading their division and looking like the team who could do it this year. Captain and living hockey legend Alexander Ovechkin will be chasing a long overdue Stanley Cup and it finally looks like he has the right players around him to go the distance. The Capitals will have to keep an eye over their shoulder for the Pittsburgh Penguins, however, with franchise centerman Sidney Crosby showing no signs of another slump in form. He is second place in the overall goal scoring table and is showing typical class and clinical finishing week in week out.

Picking what to bet on may be daunting for gambling beginners or those who don't know much about hockey, but in reality, the games and possibilities are quite straightforward. The teams are split geographically, with Eastern and Western conferences that both split further into regional divisions. There will always be a Stanley Cup winner, i.e. the team that can not only reach the playoffs by finishing in the top two of their division, but also win the playoff tournament after the regular season has finished. This means that a team which isn't the favorite on paper can still pull off a miracle and make it through to the final, even if they finished second in their own divisional league.

Games are played almost every night of the week at the height of the season, so those who enjoy in-play betting have plenty of opportunities to bet. Teams are often at an advantage or disadvantage depending on whether the game is home or away, if players are banned or injured or if they are coming off the back of a tough run of games, so predictions and trends can be picked up if you follow each division closely. Each team plays 82 times a season before the playoffs, so there are hundreds of statistics that can be bet on, such as penalty minutes spent by unruly players, goals scored, or even number of fouls and fights.

Hockey is not only a fun sport to watch, but also has the mix of predictability and unpredictability that makes gambling fun. There are always star players who will come good, always several goons who will spend half the season in the box and always one team who comes out of nowhere to make the Stanley Cup build up that little bit more interesting.

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