Vegas is officially back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing last time for the first time since entering the league. The Golden Knights won the Pacific Division. Winnipeg also missed the post season in 2022 after qualifying for four straight seasons. The Jets hold down the second wild card spot in the Western Conference. To get a sense of each team's strengths and weaknesses, let's take a closer look at their respective statistics and compare them head-to-head.
Here's a tale of the tape for the upcoming series:
Vegas won the season series 0-3, but two out of three games were decided by one goal, but the two teams haven’t met since December and things have changed since then. Winnipeg ranks as the sixth best team in even strength expected goals percentage since the start of 2023 and probably should’ve had an easier time making the playoffs. Vegas ranks 16th in that category, and they should’ve had a more difficult time winning the Pacific Division. The Golden Knights look like the superior offensive team, but the Jets have generated as many expected goals at even strength and both teams have middling power plays. Winnipeg might also be better than the Vegas defensively, and not just in goals against. The Jets do a better job suppressing shots than the Golden Knights, and they’re better at killing penalties.
Who will start in goal for Vegas?
It would be an understatement to say that goaltender Laurent Brossoit has carried the load while Logan Thompson and Adin Hill have been absent. Hill has been out since March 7th, while Thompson has been out since March 23rd, and the team almost certainly wouldn’t be sitting on top of their division had Brossoit not come in and stepped up. The 30-year-old third-string goaltender has gone 7-0-3 with a .927 save percentage, but if one of Hill or Thompson can go, it’s going to put head coach Bruce Cassidy in a tough spot. Thompson hasn’t resumed skating yet, though, and Hill just returned from a conditioning stint. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brossoit in the crease come Game 1, but I would imagine he’ll have a short leash as he has no playoff experience.
Connor Hellebuyck needs to shine.
Brossoit isn’t on Connor Hellebuyck’s level. He’s a fine goaltender, but there’s a reason he spent four seasons backing up Hellebuyck, who has been having a spectacular season. The 29-year-old posted the fourth-best mark in goals saved above expected this season and has been among the league’s top goaltenders since he entered the league. But, Hellebuyck has got to come through when it matters, and the Jets chances of winning the series will be likely be dictated by his play more than anything else.
When will Mark Stone return?
Vegas captain Mark Stone has been out since January but was recently seen at practice in a non-contact jersey. It’s difficult to get a read on whether the forward will return to the lineup in time for Game 1, but it seems more and more likely that we will see Stone back at some point in the first round. NHL insider Elliott Friedman said on the Jeff Marek Show that he believes it’s a good possibility that Stone will be in the lineup to start the series.
Who will win the series?
There are many ways a best-of-seven series can play out and it’s important to consider the entire range of possibilities when making series predictions. I calculate the probability of each team winning in four, five, six, or seven games and then use those predictions to price series prop markets such as the series winner, series spread, correct score, and total games. Here are my predictions:
Series Probabilities: Winnipeg Jets
Series Probabilities: Vegas Golden Knights
Best Series Bets
As you can see, I don’t think Winnipeg will win the series, and the Golden Knights probably are the better team, but the biggest things separating these two teams is shooting and saving luck, and that makes the Jets an attractive bet since DraftKings Sportsbook lists Winnipeg as a +140 series underdog. Those odds a bit too long by my estimation, as I believe their true series odds are around -122.
Series Bet: Winnipeg Jets (+140) to def. Golden Knights