Andrew Berkshire picks out his four best NHL bets for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights.
We’re finally here. The Stanley Cup Final is upon us, the NHL really made us wait for it this time. The Vegas Golden Knights host the Florida Panthers in Game 1 on Saturday, and we get to find out which of these teams holds the early advantage.
Is it the more-rested Florida Panthers, who swept the Hurricanes? Or is it the Vegas Golden Knights, who aren’t as far removed from competitive hockey? Let’s find out.
Vegas Golden Knights to beat Florida Panthers
No matter how you slice it, these are two surprising teams to make the Stanley Cup Final. Neither team is bad – both teams were very good in the regular season, though the Panthers were startlingly unlucky – but both have been outplayed by their opponents on balance by a number of important metrics this postseason.
It’s actually the first time in the ‘analytics era’ of the NHL where two teams have made the final with an expected goals rate below 48 per cent, so this is a wide open final without a real favourite, even though Vegas is the better regular season team.
The one thing that makes me think Vegas has the advantage, though, is how much of an impact Sergei Bobrovsky has had. It’s exceptionally rare for a goaltender to carry a team all the way through the playoffs, and most times those epic goaltender performances turn into pumpkins in the final. We’ll see what happens, but I’m going Vegas for Game 1.
Over 5.5 total goals
I don’t think this series will be particularly high scoring. Both Adin Hill and Sergei Bobrovsky have been brilliant in the playoffs, both sporting save percentages over .930 for their respective teams. Getting through those absolute walls in front of the net will be pivotal for both teams, but I don’t think it’ll happen too often.
With that said, over 5.5 goals isn’t a lot to shoot for, especially with such a long break between action for both clubs, which should lead to some early breakdowns. No matter how hard you practice, nothing simulates the competitive nature of the playoffs.
Matthew Tkachuk to score anytime
If there’s one player on the Panthers who you can guarantee will be ready to go, you know it’s going to be the ultra-rat, Matthew Tkachuk. He’s been instrumental to the Panthers’ entire run this postseason, but he was the master of clutch in the Conference Final.
Tkachuk already has four game-winning goals, three of which have been in overtime, while willing the Panthers to victory after victory. Don’t be surprised if he does the same in the Stanley Cup Final.
Jack Eichel to score anytime
Eichel has been almost as important to the Golden Knights’ run as Tkachuk has been to the Panthers, but unlike Tkachuk, his shooting has gone a little cold of late. He hasn’t scored since Game 5 against the Edmonton Oilers, where he had three points and four shots. Since then, he’s put up a respectable five assists in seven games, but hasn’t scored.
A new series means a new start, especially with such a long break between series, and I think Eichel is going to use that fresh start to get scoring again. It’s not like Eichel hasn’t been putting the puck on net, he’s got 20 shots in those seven games, just under three per game, which is plenty of chances for a player as good as Eichel.