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Panthers-Maple Leafs series preview: Betting by the numbers

Claus Andersen / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Impolite hockey society's best running joke for nearly two decades has come to an end: The Toronto Maple Leafs won a playoff series. In exchange for having to search for a new punching bag (Buffalo isn't as fun a target, is it?), we made winning bets on the Leafs knocking off the Lightning in six games pre-series and in series.

Maybe the laughingstock du jour is the Boston Bruins? We've heard harsh criticism of teams blowing 3-1 series leads, but we haven't seen a club cough one up quite like that given their historic regular season (even if we thought the Panthers might have been underrated going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs).

As we look toward Round 2, it appears that Florida should still have a chip on its shoulder. Meanwhile, Toronto might need to take a deep breath despite getting what it might have assumed is the easier path to the club's first conference final since 2002.

Series odds

Panthers +130 +150 +1.5 (-150)
Maple Leafs -150 -175 -1.5 (+120)

Unsurprisingly, considering the Leafs have moved to the favorites to (gulp!) win the Stanley Cup, they are favored to beat the Panthers at essentially the same prices as they were against the Lightning in the first round. The betting market ratings for all three teams explain that.


Using primarily even-strength metrics to evaluate a team's quality, we've established how a team rates relative to an average NHL team. We use these ratings to create an implied win probability split in each game, which we then translate to a fair moneyline price for each before home-ice advantage is applied and the sportsbook takes its vig on a bet. Here's how these teams rated over the season, when isolating play after the All-Star break, and in their first-round matchup (relative to their opponent).

Panthers +17% +16% +27.8%
Maple Leafs +19% +4% +12.7%

The main reason we liked the Panthers' chances relative to the market was because their five-on-five play this season was comparable to that of Boston, Toronto, and Tampa Bay. Plus, a strong latter portion of the season is what got Florida got into the playoffs. The Lightning's 17% above-average rating was equal to the Panthers', and Tampa actually edged Toronto in even-strength expected goals and high-danger chances (HDC) last week.

Florida gets a ton of credit in my ratings for driving 54% of even-strength play with Boston (73-62 in HDC and 53.4% of the expected goals). Maybe the Bruins played worse than usual, but for seven games, the Panthers might have played way better than an average NHL team, and they needed every bit of it to knock off a 65-win opponent.

Advanced metrics at even strength (regular season)

xG%= Expected goals share
HDC%= High-danger chance share
HDCV%= High-danger chance conversion rate
OPP. HDCV%= Opponents' high-danger chance conversion rate

Panthers 52.8 53.4 12.3 10.1
Maple Leafs 53.5 54.2 11.2 9.1

*Average NHL HDCV% = ~12.5%

These numbers for Panthers versus Bruins were shockingly close; this series comparison is more like "mildly surprising." Florida converted 11-of-73 even-strength high-danger chances - unsustainable long term at 15%. Of course, Ilya Samsonov allowed goals on 14% of those chances by Tampa, so maybe it is repeatable?

Goaltending matchup (regular season)

Bobrovsky 0.06
Samsonov 0.44

All we asked of Florida was some decent goaltending in order to compete with Boston. The Panthers didn't get that and still somehow won the series. Alex Lyon lost the net after Game 3, and Sergei Bobrovsky had a subpar minus-0.1 GSAx/60 min after taking over.

With a 0.02 GSAx, Samsonov was the definition of average over the course of the first round, but he gets some credit for saving the Leafs early in Game 6.

Special teams (regular season)

Panthers 22.8 76.0 98.8
Maple Leafs 26.1 82.1 108.2

Florida lost seven goals during special-teams situations against Boston ... and still won. A break-even goal differential in Round 2 would feel like a cool breeze on South Beach to the Panthers.

Moneyline betting guide

If you followed our NHL betting guide where we projected moneylines for each game, allowing us to compare and contrast our price to bet with what's available on a daily basis, you may be interested in what prices would be considered valuable for each team when they're on the road, at home, and for the series as a whole.

Price to bet

Panthers 53.9% +106 -127 -131
Maple Leafs 46.1% +115 +156 +161

The Panthers could be favored in this series, but the perception of each team would never allow it. Given how well they fared in Boston, it's hard to attribute much home-ice advantage to either side.

Best bets

Narratively, it's easy to feel as though the Leafs have taken control like the Somali pirates on Tom Hanks' boat in "Captain Phillips" and Toronto gets a couple of days to say, "I'm the captain now." But we're playing the numbers. With three road overtime wins - two of the dramatic comeback variety - the Leafs were actually the beneficiaries of good fortune versus the Lightning.

It would be easy to just invent the argument that the Panthers have found themselves in the playoffs, but some facts do back that up. Carter Verhaeghe suggested that their own recent playoff failure after regular season-excellence might have taught them how little the 82-game slate matters, which would also help explain how a roster with this much talent ended up as a-wild card team.

Since there's a case to be made that the Panthers are at least equal to the Maple Leafs, plus-money prices on Florida are too good to pass up.

Game 1: Panthers' moneyline (+130)
Series: Panthers to win (+150)

Matt Russell is the lead betting analyst for theScore. If there's a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.

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