Having several days off ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final is welcomed to heal aches and pains of a grueling season so far. It could also be a detriment since both the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights rolled into their second championship series appearance on a high note. Of course getting to the Stanley Cup Final is quite an achievement in itself, but the clubs were impressive in previous rounds. Not many expected the Panthers to be playing for their first NHL title, just squeaking into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. Since losing three of the first four games to the record-setting and heavily-favored Boston Bruins in the first round, the Panthers are an amazing 11-1 with nine of those victories by one goal. Vegas had perhaps the most dominant performance of the playoffs blanking Dallas 6-0 to clinch the Western Conference title in six games.
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2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final Game 1 Betting Lines
Florida Panthers +1.5 ( -246 )
Vegas Golden Knights -1.5 ( +204 )
Money Line: Florida +105, Vegas -125
Picks for NHL Stanley Cup Final Game 1
The Panthers aren’t even an underdog story any longer. If they stopped after the Boston series they would be. Florida entered that matchup around +3000, which seemed low considering the differences. Boston had 23 more wins and 43 more points than Florida during the regular season setting league records in both categories. All it took was one win and the Panthers started rolling. A change in net also proved beneficial. Exiled to the bench in favor of Alex Lyon, Sergie Bobrovsky was looking more and more like a free agent bust. Remember he signed a big contract in the summer of 2019.
Lyon was in net during a lengthy winning streak toward the end of the season pushing Florida into the second wild card spot. However, Bobrovsky reappeared in net in Game 4 of the Boston series and following a defeat that left them on the brink of elimination, he backstopped the team to three consecutive wins and a stunning upset. Bobrovsky was brilliant over nine games of the next two series. He allowed more than two goals in one game, the 4-3 clincher over Carolina in the East final, posting a 1.50 GAA and .954 save percentage.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what happens to a team or player once the postseason rolls around. Bobrovsky struggled early in the season and sustained an injury later. In 50 regular season games he had a 3.07 GAA and .901 save percentage. With their goalie playing at a high level, the Panthers haven’t needed much offense. They’ve gotten just enough, though, mainly through Matthew Tkachuk, who scored three of his team leading nine goals in overtime. The Panthers have won all six OT games and nine of 10 one-goal contests.
Vegas has more depth on offense led by Jack Eichel. Seven players have record at least 11 points and 11 players have scored multiple goals. It’s hard to defend a team that comes at you every shift. Eichel leads the club with 18 points even though he failed to score in the Dallas series and had only four assists. He’s averaging nearly 19 minutes of ice time and is used in all situations. The Knights could use his contributions, especially in the opener as they attempt to diffuse the scalding hot Panthers.
Putting pressure on the opposing goaltender is something Vegas does well. Bobrovsky stopped a bunch of shots in the Carolina series but faced few high-danger chances. You know the Golden Knights will create havoc in front of the net with their big-bodied forwards and I expect them to have success. And when they do Eichel and Mark Stone are typically involved. Eichel is a goal scorer but enters without one in seven straight games. Eichel is due and Florida’s good fortune is about to come to an end.
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