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Stanley Cup Odds (As of Feb. 22):

Tampa Bay Lightning (7.00)
Vegas Golden Knights (8.50)
Boston Bruins (9.00)
Nashville Predators (9.50)
Washington Capitals (11.00)
Pittsburgh Penguins (11.00)

The balance of power in the Metropolitan Division once again rests with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, two teams that have formed a bitter Eastern Conference rivalry over the years - one that has taken off thanks to the whole Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin narrative.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are Stanley Cup favourites and the Vegas Golden Knights have vaulted into that position as well, even though, as everyone knows, this is their first year in the league.

But this season has been anything but an entirely smooth ride for the Penguins, the defending champions, and the Capitals, the defending Presidents' Trophy titleholders and a potential Stanley Cup contender once the playoffs start in April.

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The Penguins sat outside the playoff picture in early January, 20th overall with 43 points. Now, that put them only seven points behind Boston, which is by no means an insurmountable deficit, but it also put them slightly below the Chicago Blackhawks, who have since flopped in the West and will be hard-pressed to make it up over the next few weeks and get into the post-season.

The Penguins had an abysmally inconsistent and uninspiring stretch through the month of December, which led to their fall out of the top eight in the East. Naturally that had an impact on their odds to win the Stanley Cup.

The Penguins started the season with odds of 8.00 to win it all but that number fell to 18.00 by the end of December, when it looked like the possibility of a third straight championship was slipping at an increasingly concerning rate through their fingertips. But since then, Pittsburgh has been among the best teams in the league - yes, even better than those newbies in Las Vegas! - with 15 wins in its last 19 games.

Two other statistics stand out in that span: The Penguins lead the league in Goals For from Jan. 5 to Feb. 22, scoring 79 times in 19 games – ahead of Vegas, San Jose, Boston and Tampa Bay – while allowing only 46 goals against, which again puts them in good company as we continue further into the second half of the season.

It should come as no surprise then that Penguins stars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby lead the league in points (35 and 31, respectively, as of Thursday) since things seemed to hit a low point for the entire team at the end of December. Then again, we've been down the road of starting to doubt Crosby and whether he still has 'it' anymore only to have No. 87 turn the tables on everyone as the playoffs get closer.

The New York Islanders of the 1980s were the last team to win the championship three consecutive times (they won the Stanley Cup in four straight years). The Penguins will certainly have their work cut out to make it three straight championships. But as the stretch drive looms, their two best players have been able to pick it up offensively, and Pittsburgh has been red-hot for almost two months now, suggesting this is a team that still has its best hockey of the 2017-18 season ahead of it.

Meanwhile, the Capitals have regained the lead in the Metropolitan Division, emerging from their 2017 playoff hangover that didn't actually result from a championship, but instead another deflating, heartbreaking, soul-crushing loss to the rival Penguins in Game 7 of the second round.

Last season, the Capitals went all-in. The hope, as they pushed their chip stack to the centre of the table without hesitation, was that a team heavy with skill and experience – and a handful of players on expiring contracts – would be able to get over the hump of the second round, through to the other side and eventually bring Washington its first Stanley Cup title.

Instead, they lost. Again.

The result? More questions and concerns for the coach. More questions and concerns for their star Alex Ovechkin. Same goes for the general manager. For everyone involved, really. They experienced a massive roster turnover in the summer, which was to be expected, and decided to hand more NHL responsibility to some of their prospects waiting for the opportunity in the minors.

When it comes to Stanley Cup odds, the Capitals haven't experienced much fluctuation this season. In October, their odds of winning it all stood at 11.00 and moved to 13.00 through part of December and into January. Those odds have since shifted back to 11.00, as they've moved back into the division lead.

The Capitals haven't been as hot as the Penguins over these past few weeks, although they've been able to climb to the top of the division, which promises to hold one of the more intriguing races down the stretch, thanks to the rise of the Philadelphia Flyers and slight drop off of the New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Of course, there is the possibility these teams could meet, again, in the second round this spring. In other words, kryptonite for the Capitals until they can prove otherwise.

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