Tricky tests for top two

Toronto remain 5.00 joint-favourites to lift the Stanley Cup this season but find themselves playing catch up in the Atlantic Division and will be hoping to close the gap when they take on Boston Bruins in a mouth-watering Original Six match-up.

Leafs can close gap

The Leafs head to TD Garden on the back of a surprise home defeat to Detroit Red Wings which saw their five-game winning streak – which included a 4-2 home victory over Boston – come to an end, but they did rally from 4-1 down to pick up a point after losing to Dylan Larkin’s breakaway goal in overtime.

Garret Sparks was in goal against the Red Wings and the Leafs may well restore Frederik Anderson, who leads the league alongside Marc-Andre Fleury with 16 wins, to the starting line-up for the start of a five-game road trip for the Leafs, which also includes a game against Stanley Cup joint favourites and Atlantic leaders Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Bruins will not make life easy for their rivals being back on home territory, boasting a 9-3-0 record at TD Garden, but they are currently enduring a three-game losing slump and have it all to do to against the Leafs.

Toronto are marginal favourites at 1.90 to pick up the two points and it is no surprise given their away record, which is better than their form at the Scotiabank Arena, and no team has earned more than their 11 wins on the road, while they have only been beaten three times.

Boston, priced at 1.95 for the win, also have the unhappy memory of losing to Detroit the last time they played at TD Garden while a road defeat to Florida Panthers is hardly a confidence booster for the visit of the Leafs.

Avalanche rolling into Tampa

No team is hotter than Tampa Bay right now as a five-game winning streak has seen them open up a four-point advantage in both the Atlantic Division and Presidents’ Trophy race, while they have been cut into joint-favouritism at 5.00 for outright glory.

However, they face a stiff test of their credentials in arguably the game of the day when they host Colorado Avalanche, who are now 15.00 to win their third Stanley Cup and first since 2001.

Home advantage could well be key to success for the Lightning as they have an impressive 12-4-0 record at the Amalie Arena – the best home record in the league – but the Avs will certainly be no pushovers as they can match Tampa Bay with just seven defeats all season.

The Avs’ road record is also impressive as they have won 11 times already, equalling Toronto as the league leaders, although they have lost more times than the Leafs albeit having played more games away from home so far.

The Avalanche also boast this season’s leading points scorer with Mikko Rantanen having amassed 47 points – 35 from assists, three more than team-mate Nathan MacKinnon, who tops the Avs goal charts with 19.

Gabriel Landeskog also has the best plus/minus in the league so far with the Avalanche boasting arguably the form line in the NHL, which Tampa will be desperate to keep quiet to boost their hopes of success.

The Lightning are of course not without offensive talent with Nikita Kucherov their leading points scorer with 43, third in the standings behind the two Avs stars, while Brayden Point leads the NHL with 21 goals, alongside Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine.

What could be key though is the absence of Tampa goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is not expected to return any time soon having fractured his foot on November 14.

Predators can douse Flames

Another humdinger appears to be in store at the Scotiabank Saddledome as Pacific Division leaders Calgary Flames host Central table-topping Nashville Predators.

Calgary have won four on the bounce to open up a five-point lead in the Pacific, seemingly under less pressure than the Predators, who are tied with Colorado on 39 points in the Central Division.

Whether that works in the Flames’ favour remains to be seen in a game that could be billed as attack versus defence with only three teams having scored more than Calgary’s 102 goals this term, while Nashville boast the joint-second best defence in the league.

Nashville’s recent form is patchy to say the least, having lost three of their last five including a surprise 5-3 defeat in Vancouver last time out, but they are not third favourites at 8.00 for Stanley Cup glory for nothing and have beaten the likes of Tampa Bay and Colorado away already this season.

The Flames, priced at 17.00 to go all the way, do have a good home record of 9-3-2 but it is worth noting that these two sides have met twice already this season, and the visiting side has won both encounters.