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With the unprecedented pause to the season caused by COVID-19, the NHL, along with the rest of the leagues that were playing when the virus hit, had to come up with plans to end the season.

Next week (August 1), the NHL’s Return to Play will be the culmination of those efforts, as the league joins the MLB (July 23) and the NBA (July 30) back in action.

Twenty four teams, 12 each in Toronto (Eastern Conference) and Edmonton (Western Conference), will start their quest to bring home the Stanley Cup in this extraordinary season. Eight teams in each conference, seeded five through 12, will play best-of-five qualifying series, while the top four teams from each conference will play a round robin to determine final seeding.

The Dallas Stars are going to be one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference, and will battle it out with the defending champion St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights to figure out the bracket.

For the Stars, this could be one of the best opportunities to win their second Stanley Cup. It has been a long time since their first, way back in 1998-1999. In fact, since Dallas made back-to-back Finals appearances in 1998-1999 and 1999-2000, it has only been to one other Western Conference Finals (2007-2008).

But that may change this season.

According to odds on William Hill USA, the Stars are the fourth favorite to win the Western Conference at +550. That puts them behind Vegas (+260), St. Louis (+350), and Colorado (+450), but ahead of the other eight teams that have to slog through a five-game series just to get to the first round.

There are two schools of thought with the extra rounds. Some teams could get hot playing their way into the next round, while the top four seeds know they are already in, and just playing for their final place in the bracket. But after such a long break, the teams that play the least amount of hockey may end up as the freshest towards the end of the tournament.

So can Dallas go all the way and hoist the Stanley Cup?

Before the break, the Stars had the second best defense in the NHL, allowing just 2.52 goals per game. That could bode well for Dallas, especially in the playoffs as the games get tighter against better teams.

The problem may come on the offensive side: Dallas was just 26th (out of 31 teams), averaging just 2.58 goals per contest. That number puts them 23rd out of the 24 teams in the playoffs, only ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

So for the Stars to make a run in this tournament, it will come down to whether or not an aging squad will be able to keep it up on the defensive end, and find someone, or a few players, to score enough goals to win games. Fortunately, Dallas has two veteran goaltenders capable of getting hot in Ben Bishop (2.50 GAA) and Anton Khudobin (2.22), and that alone has seen teams in the past make runs all the way to the Finals.

If you are more adventurous, you can get the Stars at +1500 to win the whole thing, which is the eighth best odds. Boston and Tampa Bay are both +500 co-favorites to lift the cup, with Vegas (+650), Colorado (+700), and St. Louis (+900) the next three, according to American betting apps website.

But shop around: there are plenty of specials with the return to play. You can check for links to current odds, free bets for the U.S. players and betting predictions for each round of games.

If you or anyone you know has a gambling problem, call 1-800-GAMBLER.

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