- Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- As you'd expect, Las Vegas likes the Chicago Blackhawks' odds a lot better if Jonathan Toews is in the lineup come Thursday's Game 1 against the Phoenix Coyotes. Toews is set to play in the quarterfinal playoff series for the first time since Feb. 19. He missed the final 22 games of the regular season with a concussion.
"With Toews, the series is a pick'em," Chuck Esposito, director of race and sports at the Sunset Station said on Tuesday. "Without Toews, the Coyotes would be a 7-5 favorite. But even if the Hawks get past the first round their odds of winning the Cup go way up without him."
Currently the Hawks are 12-1 to win the Stanley Cup, the sixth choice among 16 playoff teams. They were the eighth choice before the season started at 15-1. The Pittsburgh Penguins are the favorites to win at 3-1. Esposito said the Hawks would be "15-1 or greater" if Toews wasn't playing. Luckily the Hawks won't have the odds stacked against them since Toews is due back.
"The Hawks are the more ‘public' team," Esposito explained. "They should have a large contingent of fans even at the away games. I suspect they'll be the slight favorite by the time they drop the puck on Thursday. If all things were equal, though, Phoenix would be the favorite since they have home-ice advantage."
Esposito said hockey action at Las Vegas casinos "really picks up" during the playoffs. Games will be on big screens all over town and more and more casinos are offering a variety of new ways to wager on the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Hawks will have heavy interest, according to Esposito.
"The one question mark I keep hearing about is the goaltending," he said. "The Hawks are facing one of the hottest teams, along with New Jersey, and the hottest goaltender in Mike Smith. The Hawks could be as dangerous as anyone but the one major question mark is Corey Crawford. I know he had a good postseason series last year."
Vancouver was the preseason favorite (6-1) to win the Cup, they're the third choice after Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers (4-1).
EA Sports released its predictions for the opening round and they have the Hawks beating the Coyotes in five games. The EA SPORTS NHL simulation engine correctly predicted the 2010 Blackhawks as Stanley Cup Champions, the 2011 Stanley Cup Final matchup and the result of 13 of the 15 playoff matchups during the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.
EA Sports also predicted Jonathan Toews would have three goals and four assists in the series win over Phoenix.