the Florida The Panthers won the Presidents’ Trophy, awarded to the team with the best regular season record in the NHL. However, that’s no guarantee of playoff success. The last team to win the Presidents Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same season was in 2013. Chicago Blackhawks, during a lockout-shortened season. The last team to accomplish this feat in a normal 82-game regular season? It would be the 2008 Detroit Red Wings.
Florida will look to end this streak as it enters the playoffs with the second-best odds to win the Stanley Cup at BetMGMbehind only the Colorado avalanche. First for Florida, and it’s a Round 1 series against the Washington Capitals. Bettors have the Panthers set up as huge -350 favorite to take out Capitals. On paper, the series seems rather unbalanced, but the game doesn’t play out on paper.
how they got here
As mentioned above, the Florida Panthers were the best team in hockey last regular season. Their 58-18-6 record was good for 122 points and gave them a cushion of two wins and three points over the Avalanche, the league’s second-best team. The Capitals finished the season with 100 points and 44 wins. The 14-win gap is the biggest gap between two opposing teams in the first round, while the 22-point gap is tied for the biggest gap with the Colorado-Nashville series.
The Panthers led the league in goals scored with 340. No other team in the league has eclipsed 315 goals. If you look at the advanced metrics, that’s no coincidence either.
According to Natural Stat Tip, the Panthers led the league in expected goals, high danger chances, scoring chances and shot attempts per hour at 5-on-5 this season. Quite simply, no other team in this league has generated Florida’s quality and quantity of offense in the 82-game campaign. In comparison, Washington ranked 17th, 20th, 17th, and 15th in those respective categories.
Defensively, the teams were more even, with Washington actually posting a small advantage in expected goals against 60 minutes at 5-on-5. The Capitals ranked 10th in the league in this metric while the Panthers finished 13th. However, this difference is negligible when you consider how much better the Panthers are at creating offense than their counterparts in this series. Overall, the Panthers ranked 2nd in the league in expected field goal rate, while the Capitals were in the middle of the pack, ranking 14th.
Break down the match
When setting up a playoff against the league’s best offense, it’s probably a bad thing when the biggest question mark surrounding your team is the goalie position.
Washington launched both Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov 39 times this season, alternating the two goalkeepers and praying that one of them takes the ball and runs with it. It never happened. Both goaltenders finished the season with save percentages below .910, which is considered by most to be the bare minimum you need from your goaltenders.
Vanecek will get the start in Game 1 for Washington, and it’s the right call numbers-wise. Vanecek’s .908 save percentage ranked 29th among eligible goaltenders, while Samsonov’s .896 ranked 46th. During the regular season, Vanecek posted -2.9 goals saved above expectations (GSAx), compared to -11.1 for Samsonov. Basically, Vanecek was below par, Samsonov was bad, and so Vanecek got the start in Game 1.
For Florida, Sergei Bobrovsky had a solid season. He finished the season ranked 11th in the GSAx at Evolution-Hockey with a rating of +11.6. Bobrovsky’s tenure with Florida has been disappointing, but he’s having his best season since his 2018 season with Columbus. Bobrovsky has been good enough this season to give Florida a noticeable advantage between the pipes in this series.
In a series where Washington has Alex Ovechkin, it’s actually the Florida Panthers who have the two biggest offensive stars. Jonathan Huberdeau finished second in the league in points for the Panthers, behind only Connor McDavid in the standings. Aleksander Barkov also scored 88 points in just 67 games while maintaining his dominance at both ends of the ice. Ovechkin was playing at MVP level in the first half of the season, but his production dwindled in the second half of the year. Ovechkin has scored 24 goals and 50 points in his first 33 games of the year, but only 26 goals and 40 points in the last 44 games. He also missed the final games of the regular season, which obviously raises questions about whether he goes 100% into the series.
In terms of secondary offensive plays, in most series the Capitals would be in decent shape. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, TJ Oshie, Anthony Mantha and Tom Wilson would make a solid top 6 alongside Ovechkin. However, in this series, the Panthers are better and deeper.
I was tempted to mention Sam Reinhart with the stars, because he became one. The former Sabers forward has 33 goals and 82 points this season and is on Florida’s third line going into the series. Acquisition deadline Claude Giroux has amassed 23 points in 18 games with his new team. Anthony Duclair has scored 30 goals and Carter Verhaeghe and Sam Bennett are productive players who do everything on the ice for the Panthers. During their first full seasons in the league, Mason Marchment and Anton Lundell became a real duo. There’s a reason this team led the league in goals; they are deep and good.
Defensively, the Panthers are getting even better heading into the playoffs. Aaron Ekblad missed the last 21 regular season games with injury, but will be back on the Panthers roster in Game 1. Ekblad is a Norris-level borderline defenseman who is the best defenseman on the ice in this series. John Carlson is a former Norris winner at fullback for the Capitals who still produces offensively, but he doesn’t impact the game as much in his own zone as Ekblad.
Beyond that, it’s pretty even on the backend. Both teams have strong defensive cores and good depth at the back. It’s the firepower of goaltenders and offense that’s tilting this series heavily in Florida’s favor.
How to bet the series
the The Florida Panthers are big -350 favorites to win this series and move on to Round 2, and it’s easy to see why that’s the case. Unfortunately for us bettors, that makes this series harder to bet on unless you’re willing to risk that kind of juice.
There are other ways to bet the streak at BetMGM, but those bets will require a bit more precision and probably a bit of luck along the way.
You can look towards the spread of the series. Florida is at -175 to cover the 1.5-game series. That means you’d need the Panthers to win in six games or less, but -175 is still pretty heavy. If you bet Florida to cover the 2.5 game series you can get +140 odds. In order to cash out that bet, you would need Florida to sweep or win the series in five games.
You want to bet Florida will win Game 1 (they are -225 favorites) then the series and get -160 odds. It’s a good way to knock the juice down, but if the Panthers come out flat tonight, your bet is down right off the bat.
You can bet the The Panthers will sweep the series at +550 odds, or you can back the Gentleman’s Sweep at +300 odds. If you think Florida will end the series quickly, you can bet less than 5.5 games at +125 odds.
Or maybe you don’t think Florida’s offensive style will translate well to the playoffs and would rather support an experienced team that won the Stanley Cup just four years ago. Peter Laviolette is a Stanley Cup champion and has appeared in three finals in his career, while Andrew Brunette is in his first year behind an NHL bench in Florida. If you think Washington is going to shock the hockey world, the Capitals are +275 to win the series.