As the 2022-23 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs reach their climax, the stage is set for an epic battle between the Florida Panthers and the Vegas Golden Knights. With Game 1 scheduled for Saturday, June 3, hockey fans and betting enthusiasts alike are in for a treat. It's an intriguing matchup as both teams enter with a negative shot differential in the postseason. Normally, you would want to fade those teams big time. Vegas is favored to win the series at -130 with a take back on Florida at +110.
First off, the Panthers have been defying expectations during these playoffs. Entering as a wild-card team, they've fought tooth and nail to make it to the Stanley Cup Final. Their recent form is impressive, boasting a 9-1 record in their last 10 games, even with a 1-8-1 stat line. The Golden Knights, on the other hand, finished the regular season atop the Western Conference. They have a respectable 7-3 record in their last 10 games, but their 3-7 stat line suggests they haven't been playing their best hockey.
The Over 5.5 goals for Game 1 seems like a solid bet, considering the recent history of high-scoring opening games in the Stanley Cup Final. Since 2017, the Over has hit in five out of six Game 1's. With both teams sporting negative shot differentials in the playoffs (Florida at -90 and Vegas at -40), the stage is set for a high-octane showdown on the ice. In 2018, Vegas and Washington combined for 10 goals in Vegas.
When it comes to postseason special teams, the Panthers own the advantage. Their power play percentage stands at 27.9%, while their penalty kill percentage is at 71.2%. The Golden Knights lag behind with an 18.5% power play percentage and a 63% penalty kill percentage. The Panthers' special teams could be the X-factor in this series, giving them an edge in crucial moments.
Florida has also been dominant on the road, with a 16-5 record in their last 21 road games. No easy feat in the NHL, where home-ice advantage can often be the difference-maker. Vegas, however, has a strong 18-6 home record in their last 24 games, which means the Panthers will have to dig deep to overcome the rowdy T-Mobile Arena crowd.
While the Golden Knights have had the Panthers' number in recent meetings in Sin City, outscoring them 24-15 in five consecutive victories, the Panthers' resilience this postseason cannot be overlooked. Keep in mind, the Panthers eliminated the #1 overall seeded Boston Bruins, who set an NHL record of 135 regular season points. With their special teams prowess and road game dominance, Florida has the tools to turn the tide and hoist the Stanley Cup.
Florida went 1-1 against Vegas this season, out-shooting Vegas in both meetings, 73-56. Don't forget the Panthers owned a +416 shot differential in the regular season. On the flip side, the Golden Knights finished at +54. With 10 days off, it would not shock me if the Panthers lost game one. Vegas will be playing on a more normal four days rest. Make no mistake, this is truly a coin-flip series. I will lean to the Florida Panthers at +110 to win the Stanley Cup.
Game one selection: Florida vs. Vegas Over 5.5 (-115)