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ECF betting preview: Rangers relish underdog role vs. Panthers

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As usual, the Rangers' metrics didn't look great, but they toppled the Hurricanes in six games anyway. New York did it without fully sticking to its recipe, with just one power-play goal in the final four games and a below-average even-strength high-danger chance conversion rate of 11.5%. Yet again, the Presidents' Trophy winners are underdogs, as they face the reigning Eastern Conference-winning Panthers.

Advanced metrics glossary

  • ES = Even strength
  • xG% = Expected goals share
  • HDCA/G = High-danger chances allowed per game
  • GSAx/60 = Goals saved above expected per 60 minutes
  • SNIPES = HDC goals plus PP goals / HDC plus PP chances

Panthers vs. Rangers

Panthers -120 -150 -1.5 (+135)
Rangers +100 +130 +1.5 (-165)

Tale of the tape

Converting scoring changes at a high rate and having above-average goaltending are crucial ingredients to playoff success. Let's look at predictive metrics for those two elements.

Skaters' scoring talent

Panthers 13.8% 55.6 8.4
Rangers 15% 50.1 9.8

With two full rounds complete, we can see how each team's postseason metrics have changed from the regular-season numbers above. Both teams have increased their SNIPES percentage, while their expected goals share has dipped. Defensively, both teams have seen their high-danger chances allowed increase, with the Panthers the most significant change, up to 10.1 per game.

Goaltending matchup

Panthers Sergei Bobrovsky 0.42 0.40
Rangers Igor Shesterkin 0.72 0.87

Shesterkin was the key ingredient to the Rangers' series win over the Hurricanes, saving 5.93 goals above expected. Meanwhile, Bobrovsky's play has been almost exactly in line with how he came into the playoffs - above-average but not dominant. Both goalies' numbers being so consistent allows us to rely on those as a predictor for the Eastern Conference Final.

Team ratings

Oddsmakers create moneylines based on a numerical valuation of every team. Here's the market's most recent valuation compared to how I have them rated (based on the metrics above) for the full season and post-All-Star break:

Panthers +20% +13.7% +7.8%
Rangers +15% +11.4% -0.01%

The Panthers have always been rated as the better team, which explains why they're favored in this series. However, after the Rangers didn't need much to beat the Capitals in the first round, taking out the top-rated team in the NHL in six games warrants some credit even if they weren't the better team at even strength.

At best, Florida's rating should hold steady, given it had just a 51% edge in even-strength play against a battered Bruins squad.

Best bet

Here are the prices that would be considered valuable for each team on the road, at home, and to win the series.

Panthers 54.7% +112 -120 -116
Rangers 45.3% +109 +147 +134

By the numbers, the Panthers are more likely to win this series, but the Rangers have defied the metrics for years due to a lethal power play, talented forwards that score at a higher rate on their best scoring chances than most teams, and a star goaltender in his prime. New York's profile mirrors the 2023 Golden Knights, who topped Florida in the Stanley Cup Final.

While Florida's more likely to win, we still have to account for pricing in the betting market, as the series line has crept up toward our target price of Rangers +134.

While the prices available don't quite qualify as valuable bets by the letter of the law, they're close enough when looking at how the Rangers win games - via special teams and goaltending. If Florida continues to allow more even-strength high-danger chances than it did in the regular season, that's also playing with fire against New York.

Faith in New York to convert at a high rate while Shesterkin stands on his head doesn't translate to an appealing bet when the Rangers are the favorites, or when they match up against a team like Carolina, who we can be sure will drive even-strength play. However, as underdogs with a notable home-ice advantage against a comparable team, betting on the Blueshirts from Broadway is the way to go.

Best bets:
- Rangers to win series (+130)
- Game 1: Rangers moneyline (+100)

(Stats sources: Natural Stat Trick, Evolving-Hockey)

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 social media @mrussauthentic.

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