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NHL WCF best bets: Stars aligning in Game 5?

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The Golden Knights and Stars went to overtime Thursday for the third time in four Western Conference Final games. But for the first time in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Vegas lost a game in overtime - after three wins - and Dallas won in OT - following four failed tries.

There isn't enough disparity between playoff-caliber NHL teams to not consider any matchup that's a draw after 60 minutes something of a coin flip once it gets to overtime. You'll rarely see a live moneyline outside of -130 (56.5% implied win probability) for the favorite once the game enters OT.

Winning or losing three-to-four overtime contests in a row is a true lesson in variance. How much different might the Eastern Conference playoffs look if the Panthers went 3-3 in overtime instead of 6-0 on their run to the Stanley Cup Final? What if the Golden Knights had lost one of their previous overtime games? This Western Conference Final would potentially look a lot different had the Stars managed a split in Vegas.

When Joe Pavelski scored in Thursday's Game 4 to break the dueling overtime goose eggs, the Stars kept their season alive, and we get playoff hockey this weekend. But should we expect this series to return to Dallas? If we've learned anything, there's no such thing as expectation - just value.

Stars (+115) @ Golden Knights (-135)

The Golden Knights are up 3-1 in the series, and Stars captain Jamie Benn is out for one more game due to suspension. Vegas is still converting even-strength high-danger chances at an absurd clip with a 2-for-10 performance in Game 4, while the Stars still need more opportunities than usual to get a goal (1-for-15 Thursday). With all that considered, the Game 5 moneylines aren't all that different than where they were ahead of Game 1 when Dallas took enough money to close +105.

Every contest - and this series as a whole - has come down to three things:

  1. The Golden Knights' high-danger chance conversions - can they maintain a scoring rate above 20%?
  2. Adin Hill (4.07 GSAx) outplaying Jake Oettinger (minus-2.67 GSAx)
  3. The Stars' power play: 1-for-7 in Games 1-3, 2-for-2 in Game 4

The first two elements are somewhat related. If Oettinger struggles, Vegas will probably score better than the league-average high-danger chance conversion rate of 12%. Reputedly good at bouncing back from a bad loss, Oettinger improved his goals saved above expectation numbers in Game 4 by stopping 0.62 GSAx.

That was only slightly better than Hill, who saved just shy of a half-goal above expectation. The performance was actually less than Hill's standard since taking over from Laurent Brossoit, as he's saved 9.63 goals above expected in nine contests this postseason.

The nature of sample sizes is that you should have patience while the data widens as more games and minutes are played. The longer the Stars survive, the more opportunity Oettinger has to get back to statistical average by playing consistently better. Dallas will also have more time to bring Hill down to a statistical level befitting a goaltender on his third team in three years and who was as low as fourth on the Golden Knights' depth chart this season.

Reliance on power-play efficiencies to predict goals in a game is often a fool's errand. On the one hand, there were only three power plays in Game 4, yet Pavelski's game-winner came on the man advantage in overtime. It's only important if the few chances are converted. The Stars' power play has now revived the postseason for Dallas' top goal-scorer. Jason Robertson has four goals in the series, with two coming on the power play. His 11 shots on goal in Game 4 indicate that even without Benn, the Stars not only feel the urgency of an elimination game but can do something about it.

Dallas made it through two rounds with shaky goaltending and without getting much from Robertson. What if we're seeing both of those elements turn from minuses to pluses? In what have been 50-50 games (excluding Game 3), the Stars are the bet to extend the series at anything better than an even-money price for their moneyline in Game 5.

Pick: Stars moneyline (+115)

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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