NHL’s Central Division Race Coming Down to Exciting Final Month

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There’s just over a month remaining in the 2021 NHL regular season, and the Central Division has been the most fun all year. They have three teams near the top of the league in points that are all within two points of each other. It says a lot that the bottom of these three teams at the moment is the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who have 54 points in 39 games. The two teams joining the Lightning at the top of the division are the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes, who have 56 points in 40 games and 55 points in 38 games respectively. It’s set up to be the most exciting divisional race in the league.

Hot Teams at the Top

The Florida Panthers are coming off a loss to the Hurricanes on Tuesday night. This loss ended a six-game winning streak in which they outscored their opponents 23-9. They’ve gotten elite offensive play from Jonathan Huberdeau and captain Aleksander Barkov who each have 42 points so far this season. While those two were expected, they have also gotten surprise offensive contributions by free-agent signing Carter Verhaeghe. The 25-year-old leads the team in goals with 17 and has 35 points in 40 games in just his second season in the NHL. Pair that offensive contribution with the surprise elite goaltending of Chris Driedger and you have a terrifying team to finish out the season.

Next, you have the Carolina Hurricanes, who have won six of their last eight games. Included in those six wins are games against both the Panthers and the Lightning. They have some depth to their scoring with eight different players having 20+ points this season. Their leading scorer is Sebastian Aho who has 36 points in 38 games, but what makes the Hurricanes a threat to win the Central Division is their defense. They’ve allowed just 94 goals in 38 games this year, and while their goaltending has been good, it’s the defense led by Dougie Hamilton that makes them the betting odds favorites to win the Central on many betting websites.

Lastly, you have the reigning champion Tampa Bay Lightning. They have played the entire season without former Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov and still have had a fantastic season. Andrei Vasilevskiy has had another phenomenal year with a .931 save % and 2.00 GAA and is one of the favorites for the Vezina Trophy. Meanwhile, reigning Conn Smyth winner Victor Hedman is having another Norris Trophy-worthy season. He’s playing elite defense while also leading the team in scoring with 36 points in 39 games. Captain Steven Stamkos has also rebounded from his core muscle injuries last season to have 33 points in 37 games. As always, the Lightning are a massive threat to win the Central Division.

Central Division Odds

Odds for who will win the Central Division are a bit different depending on where you look. Top bettors and casino video slots players would be wise to explore all the different options with the team they expect to come out on top. One pattern that will be seen between the varying sites is that the current division-leading Florida Panthers aren’t the favorites anywhere you look. In fact, they’re usually found with the 3rd best odds. On, you can get the Panthers winning the division at +375 which seems like amazing value for a team currently in first.

The current favorite to win the Central Division on is the Carolina Hurricanes. The current leader on points % has +115 odds which makes them the slight favorite to win the division over the Lightning. This makes sense as they have been the hotter team as of late and have the most games remaining. They also have a 4-0-1 record against the Panthers with three important games still to play.

As for the Tampa Bay Lightning, they have just slightly worse odds than the Hurricanes. The reigning champs come in at +125 on to win the Central Division. They have split their games so far against both Florida and Carolina, with 2-2-0 and 3-2-1 records against them respectively. They still play four games against the Panthers while playing just two against the Hurricanes.

It’ll be an intense race down the stretch between all three teams. They’re all playing great hockey and with several games between the three teams in the final month, it’ll be the closest divisional race by the time May comes around as they fight for home ice advantage. The Central Division race will certainly be one to watch as they have three legitimate Stanley Cup contenders at the top.

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Riley McPherson is a 27-year-old writer from Southwest Michigan. She won 3 Student MAB awards while attending Grand Valley State University as both a radio broadcaster and sports anchor. She is a fan of Detroit sports, the University of Michigan and is a big Premier League and Aussie Rules football fanatic. She also hosts her own Michigan sports podcast called Great Lakes Sports Takes.