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Stanley Cup Final betting preview: Panthers the plus-money play again?

AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images / Denver Post / Getty

Another year, another surprise finalist for the Stanley Cup. But get past the talk of being an 8-seed and the Panthers have a loaded resume.

Going 11-1 in its last 12 games against the vaunted Bruins, the momentarily relieved Maple Leafs, and the analytics-darling Hurricanes, Florida comes into the ultimate series - a battle for hockey's Holy Grail - as the underdog for the fourth straight time. The Vegas Golden Knights get a slight nod because of home-ice advantage.

Series odds

Panthers +115 +110 +1.5 (-190)
Golden Knights -135 -130 -1.5 (+160)

The Golden Knights get the honor of being short favorites for the Stanley Cup Final. A +115 price indicates 46.5% implied win probability, compared to the Golden Knights' 57.4% at -135. Shaving 2% off each side to remove the sportsbooks' 4% hold, the assumption is a 55.5/45.5 split in favor of Vegas. Adjust for a 4% flip due to home-ice advantage, if these games were played on neutral ice, it would be as close to a true coin-flip as we could expect out of a championship matchup.


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 previous playoff matchups (relative to their opponent).

Panthers +17% +16% +27.8% +7.2% +8.7%
Golden Knights  +11% +2% +8% +10% +8.8%

The Panthers played out of their expected range while coming back to beat Boston in the first round, but they were mostly above average in edging Toronto and Carolina, thanks in part to four overtime wins (plus Matthew Tkachuk's buzzer-beating Stanley Cup Final berth clincher).

The Golden Knights consistently played 8-10% above an average team in dispatching the Jets, Oilers, and Stars.

Advanced metrics at even strength (Playoffs)

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

Panthers 47.8 49.2 11.7 7.2
Golden Knights 49.8 49.4 22.4 10

*Average NHL HDCV% = ~12.5%

The even-strength playoff metrics show that the outlier performances often needed to survive the brutality of a playoff run are colliding. Neither team has relied on an expected goal advantage, but the Panthers have held opponents below an expected high-danger chance conversion level, while the Golden Knights have converted those chances on offense way above league average.

Goaltending matchup (goals saved above expected/60 minutes)

Sergei Bobrovsky 0.06 1.41
Adin Hill 0.30 0.98

Both goaltenders were underwhelming in the regular season, with the Panthers looking to deploy just about anyone other than Sergei Bobrovsky, and the Golden Knights playing Logan Thompson, Laurent Brossoit and acquiring Jonathan Quick when they had Adin Hill the whole time.

By comparison, Ilya Sorokin, the leader in GSAx in the regular season, averaged 0.86 goals saved above average per 60 minutes.

Special teams (regular season)

Panthers 22.8 76.0 98.8
Golden Knights 20.3 77.4 97.7

The Panthers have improved their power play to a 28% efficiency in the postseason and now get a matchup with the Golden Knights' 63% penalty kill. At 18.5%, Vegas has also been less effective on the power play than in the regular season.

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 53.4% +109 -124 -125
Golden Knights 48.6% +112 +153 +154

The good news is that the same numbers that led us to bets on the Panthers over the Bruins, the Maple Leafs and the Hurricanes suggest a bet here. The bad news is that those same numbers didn't love the Golden Knights in Round 1, 2 or 3. Luckily, plus-money priced wins on Florida have out-paced losses fading Vegas.

Best bets

We came away from Round 1 lauding Vegas for what seemed like an unsustainable conversion rate of 20.8%, blaming Connor Hellebuyck for not stepping up and making the big saves.

In Round 2, Stuart Skinner took the heat in Edmonton as Vegas somehow surpassed its first-round efficiency by scoring on 12 of its 50 even-strength high-danger chances.

We hypothesized that Jake Oettinger couldn't possibly succumb to these unsustainable rates. With a subpar GSAx coming into the series that was reputation-based, he could not as Vegas went 14/56.

Sergei Bobrovsky is the first goaltender to come in with the numbers to back up the hope that someone can reel in the Golden Knights' outrageous even-strength high-danger conversion rate and level the playing field. With that, the Panthers can then out-class Vegas via special teams. With eight of their 12 wins coming on the road this postseason, travel shouldn't be an issue, especially since Florida's the side with the plus-price yet again.

Game 1: Panthers moneyline (+115)
Series: Panthers to win (+110)

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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