Six years ago, the Washington Capitals put an end to Vegas’ unbelievable debut season in the fifth game of the Stanley Cup Finals at T-Mobile Arena. Tonight, the Golden Knights will have the same opportunity to close one out in five games in front of their home crowd. Despite Florida’s domination of the Eastern Conference heavyweights, Vegas has simply been too much for them to handle through four games.
They’ll come into tonight’s tilt as a larger betting favorite than they have for any other game this series, and it’s for good reason. If not for a late Matthew Tkachuk goal to send Game 3 into overtime, this series may have been over in four. There hasn’t been just one reason for the difference in success so far, but let’s go over the two biggest factors.
While Vegas’ special teams have been fantastic, Florida’s have been the opposite. In the first four games, the Golden Knights’ power play has scored six times on eighteen opportunities. On the penalty kill, they have not conceded a goal on any of Florida’s thirteen power play chances. Adin Hill has played a crucial role when Vegas is down a man, but it’s the team’s aggressive, swarming defense that has caused the biggest problems for Florida. With limited time to make plays, the Panthers’ star players have struggled to find their rhythm offensively in the series.
In contrast, the Golden Knights’ power play has been exceptional. Conn Smythe favorite Jonathan Marchessault has recorded four points on the man advantage in the series, while Jack Eichel has added three. The top unit has dominated and, unlike Florida, they never appear rushed or overly eager to make the perfect play. In the playoffs, the margin between winning and losing can be quite small, so Vegas’ ability to excel on special teams has been a significant factor in their success so far.
As always, goaltending has played a big part in this Stanley Cup Final. Although Sergei Bobrovsky has only really had one bad game, he hasn’t been what he was in Rounds 2 and 3, and against a team like Vegas, Florida will need him to be his very best if they have any chance of turning this series around. Bob’s stats in the Final so far are mediocre at best, as he holds a GAA of 3.74 and an SVP of .875. Of course, stats don’t always tell the whole story, and these ones may be just as much an indictment against the team’s defensive play as they are against Bobrovsky.
Adin Hill, on the other hand, has been all Vegas needs him to be. The play of the Vegas defensive core around him is certainly helping, but Hill’s stats don’t lie. After four games, he has a GAA of 2.21 and an SVP of .925. Hill hasn’t blinked since getting the net in the second round, and although he may not win the Conn Smythe, his postseason performance will not be forgotten in Vegas if they end up winning Lord Stanley.
The closeout game is always the toughest, but at least Vegas will be trying to do it in front of their home crowd. They’ll be nervous to start, and Florida will likely throw everything they can at them, but if Vegas can get through that, I love their chances. Thankfully, they’ve started well in this series and have been the first team to two goals in every game. If they’re able to turn that nervous energy into excitement and get on the board early, watch out.
For the Panthers, tonight has to be about just winning one. They were unsuccessful in the first two in Vegas, but now they have no choice here in Game 5. They did it against the Bruins, so the belief will still be there, but with a beaten down roster and a feeling of lost magic, they’ll need quite the effort just to get through this one on the road.
Like everyone else it seems, I’ll take Vegas tonight at –175 to end the 2023 NHL Playoffs on top of the hockey world.
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