NHL Playoffs Prediction
Two more second round series get underway on Sunday across the National Hockey League. The Carolina Hurricanes will host the defending Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in game one while the Presidents Trophy winning Colorado Avalanche will welcome in the Vegas Golden Knights.
Series Tied 0-0
It’s not an ideal scheduling spot for the Vegas Golden Knights. Less than 48 hours after finishing a hard fought, grinding seven game series against the Minnesota Wild, the Knights will head to Denver to face-off against the best team in the league.
Colorado has been waiting for their opponent since Monday, when they finished their four game sweep of the St. Louis Blues. The Blues were in that series for a total of zero minutes and zero seconds, but I don’t expect that to be the case with the Golden Knights.
Based on the regular season, these were the two best teams in the league. These two teams actually finished with identical point totals of 82, which was the highest in the league. The Avalanche notched more wins in regulation, giving them the tiebreaker and home-ice advantage in this series and throughout the playoffs.
However, a deeper look will lend some insight as to why the Avalanche are such drastic favorites both in this game and in this series.
Colorado finished first in the league in terms of 5-on-5 goal differential, expected goals, shot attempt share and high danger chances. These are the four main categories we look at to judge how good a team really is beyond their on-ice results, and Colorado leads the league across the board. It’s not like one side of the ice carries another either, as the Avalanche rank first in expected goals scored per hour and expected goals against.
Vegas has nothing to be ashamed of in their own right. They ranked 2nd in 5-on-5 goal differential, 6th in expected goal rate, 4th in shot attempt share and 8th in high danger chance percentage. They ranked second in expected goals scored while struggling a little more in their own zone, ranking near league average in terms of expected goals against.
In normal circumstances, I’d look towards a bet on the Golden Knights here. There’s no doubt there’s value on the underdog in this spot. The Colorado Avalanche looked dominant in round one while the Golden Knights barely escaped the Minnesota Wild. You’re paying a tax to bet on the Avalanche here, which inherently leads to value on the underdog. However, after playing a game seven on Friday night, there’s a better way to attack this game from my point of view.
Both teams ranked top ten in goals against per game during the regular season. A lot is made of Colorado’s high-scoring offense, but they are also one of the best defensive teams in the league. Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Samuel Girard and Ryan Graves make a top four that’s extremely efficient at moving the puck out of their own end. Additionally, goaltender Philipp Grubauer was amongst the league leaders in goals saved above expectation with a mark of +5.2. He stopped 92.2% of the shots he faced during the regular season.
On the other side, Marc-Andre Fleury has had a storybook type of resurgence for the Golden Knights this season. After serving as the face of the franchise ever since they selected him in the expansion draft, Fleury had a rough season in 2019-20. The Golden Knights traded for and extended Robin Lehner, signalling the end of Fleury’s tenure as starter in Sin City. Or so we thought. Fleury took advantage of an injury to Lehner, posted a 92.8% save percentage and +17.9 GSAx mark, and took back the role as number one goalie.
Grubauer posted a 93.6% save percentage in Colorado’s first round sweep, while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 93.1% of the shots Minnesota took last round. Both goalies look to be on top of their game as we head into round two.
While many expect the Avalanche to light up the scoreboard every time they play, I think we might be in for a series where the defenses and goaltending shine more than expected. I’d look for a play on the under here as both teams feel each other out. Colorado isn’t playing the St. Louis Blues here; they’ve got a real challenge with Vegas.
Bet: Under 5.5 Goals