2018 Stanley Cup Final: Will the Golden Knights Get Their Storybook Ending?
The road mentality in the 2017-18 NHL Playoffs has been a budding trend. It is not just that teams are several games over .500 so far -- it's more the idea that some of the top teams just have not been very good.
If you look at the Eastern Conference champion Washington Capitals, they are 4-5 at home, but they are 8-1 on the road. And that's these playoffs in a nutshell.
But as for the Western Conference winning Vegas Golden Knights, they have been on fire, winning 12 of their first 15 playoff games. It does not matter where they play.
Starting Monday, the two will face off against one another in the quest for the Stanley Cup.
Needless to say, there are some numbers to dig into. Who do they favor to hoist the Cup?
All the Answers
The one thing Washington has been able to do very well this postseason is rise to the occasion. Behind Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Braden Holtby, they have bounced back to win all three series. Washington was able to weather Tampa Bay's best then counter-punched in Game 6. Their relentless puck battles at 5-on-5 created numerous slot chances and ultimately a shutout. Washington followed that up in Game 7 with an early goal by Ovechkin. The Capitals never looked back in a dominant 4-0 shutout.
Natural Stats Trick has been instrumental in explaining how the chances are flowing in these series. Washington was able to be opportunistic in Game 7 despite score effects increasing Tampa's chances. Those numbers tilted to 62% possession, on average, for Tampa Bay. However, Washington was able to control the first half of the game by racing out to a 3-0 lead (all on even strength goals). That included two goals by Andre Burakovsky.
What does that mean? The Lightning were, for the most part, kept away from the middle early in the game. As a result, Washington outscored Tampa 19-9 at even strength in the series, so as the power play opportunities dried up Tampa Bay's chances did the same. Washington was more resilient in the end, just as they have been throughout this year's playoffs.
Vegas has been even more surgical, with the help of star goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. How amazing has Fleury been? His Goals Saved Above Average are 16.69 through 15 games, which basically means Fleury has prevented 17 goals greater than an average goaltender would have. In the playoffs, that basically means the difference between survival and elimination.
There were just 10 goals combined between Vegas and the Los Angeles Kings in Round 1. Round 2 featured the goaltending of Fleury, but Vegas also got 25 points the top line of Jon Audy-Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith. Alex Tuch and James Neal have provided viable depth scoring in the past two rounds in particular. Against Winnipeg, Vegas was quick to respond to goals, immediately sending home chances of their own on several occasions. It truly changed the dynamic of the series and is another reason why Vegas is considered a favorite. They seem to have an answer for everything.
Washington seems to have the answers, too. That is what gives this series the potential to be so good. How things shake out will largely depend on how the lines match up. And that will be something to keep an eye on from game to game.
It will also be important to see how Washington plays on special teams. Tampa was able to exploit Washington early on in their series, scoring six times before their power play chances dried up. Vegas and their speed will be a tough test at every interval and both top-sixes feature a lot of scoring potential (3.25 goals per game for Vegas and 3.22 for Washington).
It should go without saying but Game 1 is a pivotal game. If Washington wins on the road, it changes the series early. If Vegas wins, they are capable of rolling off two, three or even four straight wins without a problem.
How Will the Series Play Out?
Through the lens of our models, let's check out the likelihood of all the possible series outcomes.
|Washington in 4 games||5.65%|
|Washington in 5 games||10.72%|
|Washington in 6 games||15.54%|
|Washington in 7 games||13.93%|
|Washington Wins Series||45.84%|
|Vegas in 4 games||6.56%|
|Vegas in 5 games||14.31%|
|Vegas in 6 games||15.63%|
|Vegas in 7 games||17.66%|
|Vegas Wins Series||54.16%|
As you'd expect, the 12-3 Golden Knights, with their electric home ice advantage, are the slight favorites. According to our numbers, they possess a 54.16% chance to win the series with the most likely outcome in seven.
Per OddsShark, the Golden Knights are at -135 odds to take the series. A -135 line converts to a 57.45% win probability, which means our numbers are a bit less optimistic. As for Washington's +115 odds, they're basically spot on as they amount to an implied probability of 46.51%.
What About Game 1?
As of Friday morning, Vegas is a -145 moneyline favorite to Washington's +125 odds (via OddShark and Bovada). They are also 1.5-goal favorites on the spread, with a 5.5 over/under and -125 odds favoring the under.