NHL Stanley Cup Final Odds & Betting Guide: Can Florida Pull Off One Last Upset?
The Stanley Cup Finals start on Saturday with the Florida Panthers heading west to play the Vegas Golden Knights, making their return after their inaugural trip in 2018. With Florida riding the wave of a miracle run, and Vegas having won the Western Conference, the teams couldn’t have more different regular season profiles, but whether that matters remains to be seen. Let’s take a look at Stanley Cup Final odds and see whether either team might be worth a bet.
Watch Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals at 8 p.m. on Saturday June 3, with coverage on TNT/TBS in the U.S. and Sportsnet/CBC in Canada.
Paths To The Cup
The Panthers looked dead in the first round. Down 3-1 to Presidents’ Trophy winners Boston, everyone already penciled the Bruins in to round two. Since then, however, Florida has won 11 of their past 12 — three straight to beat Boston, four of five to beat Toronto, and then sweeping Carolina.
Vegas hasn’t been quite as successful. But, they’ve yet to face a Game 7, beating Winnipeg in five after dropping the first game, then dispatching the Oilers and the Stars in six apiece.
Two Hot Goalies
Vegas has the better team. Winners of the West, 19 points better than the Panthers, and in these playoffs significantly better than Florida, the Golden Knights should win this series. Vegas ranks fifth among playoff teams in 5-on-5 expected goals%, while Florida sits a distance 11th and is net negative. Florida is 5-0 in overtime games, including after tying the game with less than 30 seconds left in the finale against Boston.
The Panthers have caught the greatest heater in recent hockey memory. Sergei Bobrovsky boasts a .935 Save% after starting the playoffs as the backup. Yes, other teams have ridden amazing goaltending to titles. But, when Tampa got their two, their goalie was universally acknowledged as the best in the world, not a punchline and a punching bag. Two months ago, Bobrovsky served as the case study against paying too much for a goalie. Now, he’s driven the Panthers to conceding 15.95 fewer goals than expected at even strength these playoffs, 6.9 better than anyone else.
Vegas represents a tougher test. They’re leading the lead in shooting success in these playoffs, scoring nearly 12% of their attempts. It’s exceedingly likely that number will come down given Bobrovsky is only conceding goals on 6.5% of shots he’s facing. How far that number falls will decide the series.
The Golden Knights also have goaltending regression concerns. Adin Hill’s .937 Save% also smells unsustainable. But, Vegas has a lot more space to sustain that regression. Their +17 goal differential looks more convincing than Florida’s +7. More to the point, Florida has a -9 expected goal difference, whereas Vegas sports a less terrifying -2.65.
Panthers The Latest No. 8 To Fall At The Finish?
Nothing about the Panthers’ playoff run can be dismissed. But, it’s also true that No. 8 seeds or equivalents haven’t succeeded on this stage in the salary cap era. In 2006, Edmonton lost as an eight-seed. Nashville lost as an equivalent to Pittsburgh in 2017, and the 2021 Canadiens lost in the finals with the worst record of the 16 teams to qualify. Only Los Angeles has ever won as a No. 8, in 2012.
For all the talk of hockey being a random championship generator, the evidence says teams with weak underlying fundamentals like the Panthers come up short at the end.
The Golden Knights are just fundamentally better across the board – a better goal differential, better expected goals statistics, with home ice advantage. Jack Eichel has stepped up in his first taste of the playoffs, so Florida’s presumed advantage in high-end talent with Matthew Tkachuk doesn’t even hold. Florida is betting almost solely on Bobrovsky, because a 47.7 Expected Goals% isn’t indicative of a team that should succeed.
Vegas will continue to need results from their older guard, namely Mark Stone, though they did manage to beat Dallas with Stone failing to record a point in the last four games. Any contribution from him to the offense and Vegas goes from the favorite to the overwhelming one.
There is not a single statistic that says the Panthers will win this series. Not a single analytical case for them. Their OT record in the playoffs and their goalie’s amazing results look like flashing red lights saying they’re riding the heater of a lifetime.
It’s easy to buy in to the team of destiny narratives. But, the Panthers are not playing like the 2021-22 Presidents’ Trophy winners, they’re playing like the 2021 Canadiens team that felt magical, down to punching a ticket to the Cup Finals on Quebec’s most sacred of holidays. And for all the talk about that team having magic, they got ran off the ice when it mattered most.
The Golden Knights have the better team, and the numbers prove it. The end of the Dallas series is mildly concerning – being unable to put them away, at home, with Dallas out Jamie Benn – but they’re coming in with the deeper team, home ice advantage, and the stars to match Florida punch for punch.
Teams are destined to win until they don’t. They’re Cinderella until midnight. Florida is not your traditional No. 8 seed right until the moment we remember they would have missed the playoffs if Pittsburgh had just beaten the Blackhawks the final week.
Vegas in 5.