Predictions for 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Finals
Stanley Cup Finals series odds come via TopBet and are accurate as of Sunday, May 27. As always, please review these lines before actually deciding on or placing a wager. Though they’ll hold relatively steady leading into Game 1 on Monday, May 28, sportsbooks will futz and fiddle with them as we get deeper into this championship-round clash. And just as a reminder, unless you’re investing in the mid-series underdog, placing big-picture bets usually isn’t worth the return beyond Game 2.
Washington Capitals (+115) vs. Las Vegas Golden Knights (-145)
If someone had told you at the beginning of the NHL season that both the Washington Capitals and Las Vegas Golden Knights would wind up making the Stanley Cup Finals, you would have likely scoffed.
To be sure, the Capitals were never a stretch. Having Alex Ovechkin puts them in the most relevant conversations seemingly every year. But the Knights? They were a different story.
After all, this is the first season of their existence. Expansion teams aren’t supposed to crack the contender’s circle, let alone make an actual appearance in the championship round, on their first try. No, they’re supposed to wallow in the NHL’s basement for a little while, rebuilding and retooling over a longer haul until they’re more established, more seasoned and ready to wage battle with franchises who’ve had more time to lay a foundation of talent.
This, mind you, should hold doubly true when introducing new markets. The NHL took a calculated risk allowing a team in Las Vegas. There was no telling how the fanbase would respond, or how well players would hold up spending a lion’s share of their time near Sin City.
Everything we have seen thus from the Knights is more than anomaly. It’s something greater—something more special, and perhaps unquantifiable. It makes you not want to wager against their Cinderella run turned odds-on favorite crusade.
And you know what? You shouldn’t be betting against them now. Because for everything that cannot be explained or concretely measured, there’s tangible evidence to suggest they’re the superior team.
A lot of the Knights’ appeal begins and ends with goalie Marc Andre-Fleury, who continues to show up in a big way. He’s allowing around 1.7 goals per game in the playoffs, the second-best mark of the postseason, exceeded only by the Los Angeles Kings’ Jonathan Quick, who was eliminated in four games during the first round by these very Knights.
Andre-Fleury’s save percentage is also verging on 95 percent (94.7), which is again the second-best showing among goalies in the postseason. More impressive still, the man in front of him, the New Jersey Devils’ Corey Schneider, hasn’t put on his pads since the first round. So just in case you were wondering whether Andre-Fleury’s stinginess between the posts is sustainable, it absolutely, positively is.
Facing the Capitals’ offense will, of course, present a different, more difficult type of challenge. Ovechkin puts constant pressure on defensemen and goalies with his expansive shot types; he’s second in the entire league in goals scored for the playoffs.
On top of that, Washington has the postseason’s leading points-piler, in Evgeny Kuznetsov. He’s set up more goals for teammates than anyone else, and between him and Ovechkin, the Capitals deploy both the first and second best individual point totals in the entire league.
The Knights, conversely, do not have that statistical superstar on the offensive side. Jon Marchessault is the closest they come, and he ranks sixth in total goals and eighth in total points—which, considering the number of games Vegas has played through, isn’t that overwhelmingly impressive.
Some will be hesitant to invest in the Knights based on this alone. And it doesn’t really get any easier to convince them otherwise when looking at the macro numbers. They are ninth as a team in goals scored per game during the playoffs. They aren’t even adept at exploiting power plays; their power play percentage ranks 10th among all 16 squads to appear in the postseason.
Still, the Knights’ defense is good enough for us to look past all this. They’re allowing just 1.8 goals per game as a team, which is ridiculous. They defend with more aggression rather than with more preventive measures. That consistently throws even the best of their opponents off tilt. And while that extra activity does come with the baggage of committing more penalties, the Knights don’t sweat their shorthanded minutes. They’re one of the NHL’s best penalty-killing teams.
It helps, too, that the Knights dispatched the Winnipeg Jets in fives games during the Conference Finals. They’ve enjoyed substantially more rest time than the Capitals, who are coming off a seven-game rock fight with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Indeed, that additional time off could create some rust. We’ve seen it before. Teams get thrown out of rhythm because they haven’t needed to play at real-game speed for more than a week. But the Knights have shown a unique ability to pick up wherever they leave off. They swept the Kings in the first round of the playoffs and had very little trouble recapturing their form in Round 2, when they unseated the San Jose Sharks in six games.
Expect this matchup with the Capitals to be the toughest one the Knights have faced. We’re not hiding from that. Washington is the second-highest scoring team in the playoffs and constantly brings the heat with their efficiency. They don’t pride themselves on shot volume; they’re in the bottom half of the standings in attempts per game during the playoffs. But they make defenders work for long stretches at a time with pinball passing, and that opens the door to mistakes and blown coverages, no matter how good the stopping power is in front of them.
At the same time, the Knights have yet to show real cracks. We’ve picked them through every series of the playoffs, and they’ve done anything but disappoint. They have the defense to outlast the Capitals’ offense. Maybe it takes six games. Maybe it takes seven.
However the long the series spans, though, we’re pretty darn certain the Knights’ meld of consistent defensive effort and strong stands between the posts will culminate in them hoisting the Stanley Cup trophy above their heads.
The Pick: Las Vegas Knights (-145)
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