With the final four of the Stanley Cup odds finally set, we almost know who will be fighting for hockey’s greatest prize. In both conferences, intriguing battles will play out. Is there money to be made betting NHL playoff odds for these conference finals?
The Eastern Conference Finals start Thursday, May 18 at 8 p.m. ET on Sportsnet and TNT. The final team in, Florida Panthers, face the Metro Division’s winner Carolina Hurricanes, who have made their run without two key stars. Carolina is favored to make its first Stanley Cup since 2006, while Florida is trying to make their first in the cap era.
In the West, perpetual contenders Vegas and Dallas go at it starting on Friday, May 19 in Vegas, on Sportsnet and ESPN. The Knights are favorites to make their second Stanley Cup Final in their short history, though they’ll have to go through 2020 West finalist Dallas to do so.
Florida Panthers vs. Carolina Hurricanes Preview
The Eastern Conference Finals exemplify how playoff hockey often does not reflect regular season success. The Hurricanes making it makes sense, given their dominant performance winning the Metropolitan Division.
Florida was an enigma all season. The 2021-22 President’s Trophy winners who sold high on their best player in the summer, Florida was bad for the first few months of the year. There were even concerns that their unprotected first round pick could end up giving Montreal a high pick at one point. But then, they got right, and are playing their best hockey at the right time.
The problem is, that isn’t exactly inspiring a lot of confidence. Yes, Florida beat Boston and Toronto. But Boston sputtered down the stretch despite their gaudy results. And the Leafs are the Leafs. Oh, and it took a peak Sergei Bobrovsky series to pull off, which as any long time hockey fan knows, cannot be counted on going forward.
Another Bobrovsky Series?
Against the Bruins, Bobrovsky had an .891 Save% after coming in relief midway through that series, before defeating Toronto with a .943. If – and let’s be honest, when – that regresses back to even a still-very good .920 in this series, the Panthers can’t win.
The Hurricanes have shown they can play any style, from a slow, low pace against the Islanders to beating the Devils with high-event hockey. Against Florida, the flow could go either way.
Carolina has the depth to win this series. Unlike Florida, which leads the playoffs in goals saved compared to expectation, the Hurricanes rank sixth. They get solid defensive results from good process, not luck.
To the extent Florida has a chance, they have to get a game early. The Hurricanes have lost Andrei Svechnikov and Max Pacioretty to season-long injuries. Teuvo Teravainen may soon from a thumb injury. Once he’s back, Florida’s limited avenues to reliably create offense will narrow further.
The Panthers are on a magical run, but they’re the most goaltending-reliant final four participant since Montreal in the weird 2021 run. Yes, such a team can win this deep, as the Habs showed. But using 2021 as your evidence is suspect for obvious reasons.
There is nothing we have seen in the first two rounds that suggest Florida can sustain this unless you really believe in the shakiest and least reliable goalie in modern history. If you’re betting on Florida you’re essentially betting that Bobrovsky doesn’t turn back into a pumpkin.
Given that bet, Hurricanes in five.
Dallas Stars vs. Vegas Golden Knights Preview
Vegas comes into these playoffs as the winner of the Pacific Division and holder of home ice advantage. But, it’s hard to make the case they’re actually the better team. Their victory over the Jets looks fairly meaningless with how badly Winnipeg played down the stretch. And their win over Edmonton was stained by the league’s decision to not suspend Alex Pietrangelo for more than an offsetting game with Darnell Nurse.
They’re also wildly outperforming their expectation. A playoff leading +15 in five-on-five goal difference, they’re just fifth in expected goal differential. They’ve scored eight more than expected, mostly because they got to play the Oilers’ rotating cast of disasters in net, and saved five more than expected despite running their backup due to injuries.
Dallas, on the other hand, has been an advanced stats darling dogged by shaky goaltending these playoffs. First in the playoffs in expected five-on-five goal difference, they got taken the distance by Seattle because Jake Oettinger couldn’t get a stop for stretches of that series. His overall numbers look fine, but the Stars cannot afford for him to have another series where he has four games with a sub-.900 Save% and two games with a Save% starting with a seven.
In the other crease, Adin Hill has somehow managed a .934 Save% since coming in against Edmonton. His play contributed heavily to beating the Oilers, and it’s going to be crucial against the Stars.
If Dallas can break Hill at five-on-five, then they will be able to lock down defensively like they did against Minnesota. Dallas’ bad performances against Seattle all came when they either conceded the first goal or were losing after the first – they’re not a good team playing from behind. In all four of their wins in the second round, they got the first goal.
The key to this series will be both teams’ aging stars – Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn for the Stars and Mark Stone for the Golden Knights. All three have been good so far in these playoffs. But none have had the sorts of runs that they’ve had in their pasts. With younger stars on both teams, the spotlight is off them. But it’s often these sorts of wily veterans who win or lose series.
Dallas is playing better hockey. And to the extent that goaltending can be predicted, Oettinger’s better than Hill. Stars in six.