Considering the incredible story surrounding the Golden Knights and the magnitude of the series, we can expect a lot of people who don’t normally bet on hockey to get in on the Action for the Stanley Cup Final between Vegas and Washington. In fact, we tracked 20,450 bets on Game 1, which was the only NHL game to eclipse 20,000 tickets this season. Compared to football, basketball or baseball, hockey is the least popular sport among gamblers and thus, the market is a little less efficient than say that of the NFL.
Using Pinnacle’s closing line, the Golden Knights closed Game 1 at -152 and the Capitals were priced at +137.
To offer some context on that, the Capitals were +120 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning spent much of the season as the Stanley Cup favorites. They are objectively a better team than Vegas.
It has to be noted that the Caps closed +175 (win), +167 (win) and +137 (loss) in Games 1, 2 and 5 at Tampa Bay, but still, it’s pretty wild to see the Capitals as bigger underdogs against Vegas than they were against a team that many considered to be the best in the league.
Did the Box Score Lie in Game 1?
The opening game of the series was surprising. Both Marc-Andre Fleury and Braden Holtby were red-hot coming into the series but underwhelmed in Game 1. You can likely draw a line through both performances and expect both netminders to be sharper on Wednesday night.
In terms of possession stats and expected goals, this game was basically a coin flip. Each time had its fair share of good bounces and a couple of bad bounces.
In the end, Vegas finished with a 50.32 Corsi For % (a shot-based metric that is a good barometer for possession at 5v5) compared to Washington’s 49.78 CF%. And while the Knights slightly edged the Caps in shot share, the visitors generated more scoring chances (26 to 23) and high-danger scoring chances (17 to 13) at 5v5.
In terms of expected goals, the margin was razor-thin. Vegas recorded 3.08 xGs compared to 3.0 for Washington at all situations, but the Caps edged the Knights, 2.94-2.91 at 5v5 (adjusted for score + venue).
Game 1 Notes
One of the interesting subplots of Game 1 was that down-the-roster guys stepped up on both sides. Vegas got a big game out of its fourth line, and Washington’s middle six — especially Brett Connolly — put forth a great effort. We tend to focus so much on the stars in these contests, but oftentimes a big performance from an unlikely source changes the tide.
Tomas Nosek, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Deryk Engelland and Ryan Reaves were the four best possession players for the Knights in Game 1. None of those players is particularly good, so I don’t see that trend continuing into Game 2 and beyond.
Meanwhile, the Capitals’ also-not-good fourth line of Devante Smith-Pelly, Jay Beagle and Chandler Stephenson got caved in and were dominated by the Knights’ fourth line.
Washington did see success when its third line was on the ice. Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller and Connolly had a fantastic game and consistently drove play when they were on the ice. Burakovsky and Eller are good players, and their performance could have a large impact on the rest of the series.
Game 2 Betting Outlook
Pinnacle opened Game 2 at the Game 1 closing price of -152/+137. Since then, the line has adjusted slightly to -149/+137.
Even though it was a weird game, I think Game 1 painted a decent picture of what we can expect in this series. These teams are relatively evenly matched, but Vegas has a slight edge at the moment thanks to home-ice advantage. Factoring in that edge, I’d make Vegas’ closer to the -120/125 range.