The expansion system in the NHL seems to be in healthy working order. The Vegas Golden Knights hit the ice for the first time in 2017 as the 31st active franchise. Nine months later, they played in the Stanley Cup Final before ultimately falling to the Washington Capitals.
Since their inaugural campaign, only four teams have earned more points in the standings than the Golden Knights, and Vegas has won four division titles in their six seasons of play in hockey’s top flight. More recently, the Seattle Kraken reached the 100-point mark and advanced to the second round of the playoffs in just their second season.
The Florida Panthers also experienced success early in their franchise history, making a run to the Stanley Cup Final in their third year and holding the record for most points in a first season until Vegas claimed that distinction six years ago.
The Golden Knights now find themselves 60 minutes away from lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup, while the Panthers have their work cut out to stay alive in a postseason run that’s included plenty of adversity. Vegas is outscoring Florida 17-9 in the series through four games, although the last two games have been even in goal differential.
Florida was riding the hot netminder for the first three rounds, with Sergei Bobrovsky leading the league in postseason wins, shots faced, shots saved, and minutes played. Bobrovsky has cooled off significantly against Vegas, saving just 87.5% of the shots against him compared to Adin Hill of the Golden Knights stopping 92.5%.
The Panthers have spent more time in the penalty box, allowed six power-play goals while scoring none, and are now dealing with multiple injuries that could factor into tonight’s matchup. Vegas is -1.5 (+155) on the puck line at home, with the goal total set at 6.0 and slightly juiced to the under (-120).
Heading into Games 1 & 2 in Vegas, the Panthers were 8-1 in road playoff games this season with multiple wins in Boston, Toronto, and Carolina. The team appears to have stabilized after a multi-period lull where they were outscored 10-2 from the third period in Game 1 until the final horn in Game 2.
Bobrovsky has prevented goals on 91.3% of the Golden Knights’ attempts on goal since Game 3 started, and Aleksander Barkov ended a five-game drought with no points by logging a goal and an assist in Game 4.
Hockey players are renowned for playing through injuries, and if Florida has Matthew Tkachuk playing at 80% health or better, the Panthers will be a tough out. We expect this series to flip back to South Florida after tonight.
Underdogs and unders go together like peanut butter and jelly. Florida is in this position to be eliminated because they allowed the first two road games in the series to get out of hand in Vegas' favor.
If the Panthers are going to steal one on the road to extend the series, it doesn’t appear likely they’ll do so by beating Hill more than three times in a game. In their last five road wins this postseason against Carolina and Toronto, there was an average of 4.8 goals scored per game.