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NHL Western Conference Finals

There might not have been a more unlikely conference finals matchup than that of Winnipeg vs Vegas.  Before the season started Winnipeg was 66-1 and Vegas was 100-1 to win the Stanley Cup.  Vegas has been a pleasant surprise all year as they look to become the first expansion team to win the cup in their first year.  This second version of the Winnipeg is also looking to make their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals as they began as the expansion Atlanta Thrashers in 1999 and relocated to Winnipeg in 2011.

To get here Vegas swept the Kings and then beat the Sharks in 6 games.  They are a team of veteran castoffs that have really come together and Marc-Andrei Fleury has been excellent.  Their speed and depth overwhelmed both opponents and you never really got the sense they were in danger of losing either series.  The Jets had no issues in beating Minnesota and then took out the presidents’ trophy winner  Nashville in 7 games.  What was particularly impressive about that series was the way the Jets outplayed the Predators in Nashville.  Winnipeg won 3 of 4 in Nashville and the only loss there came in overtime.  The favorite in this series is the Jets at -145 even though Vegas won the season series 2-1 and 12-11 in goals.  That’s 23 goals in 3 games for those counting at home, hmmm🤔.

Schedule:

Saturday, May 12, 7pm: Golden Knights @ Jets
Monday, May 14, 8pm: Golden Knights @ Jets
Wednesday, May 16, 9pm: Jets @ Golden Knights
Friday, May 18, 8pm: Jets @ Golden Knights
*Sunday, May 20, 3pm: Golden Knights @ Jets
*Tuesday, May 22, 9pm: Jets @ Golden Knights
*Thursday, May 24, 8pm: Golden Knights @ Jets

5-on-5

These teams are built similarly with great skaters that like to play a speed game and go up and down the ice.  Winnipeg was second in the league in goals scored at 273 and Vegas was fifth at 268.  The #1 team on that list is also still playing at Tampa Bay scored 290 goals this season.  Both teams have great depth and can roll out 4 quality lines each night.  The team chemistry for the Golden Knights is remarkable as they were able to take third and fourth line guys from teams that didn’t want them and build an exceptionally deep team with them.

Like Vegas, Winnipeg also plays 4 deep lines but the talent is just better and they are probably the deepest team in the league.  The acquisition of Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues was a great season move as he has fit perfectly.  Both teams were able to get to this point on their speed and depth and now they face an opponent that plays the same game. The problem or Vegas is that Winnipeg does it better and with better players.

Advantage: Winnipeg

Power Play

Vegas ranks 2nd in the playoffs at killing penalties at 85%, thanks in no small part to Fleury but we’ll to get to him in a minute. Winnipeg has successfully killed off 74% of power plays against them and both teams were in the top 10 right around 81% during the regular season.  Winnipeg has been better on the power play scoring 8 goals on 32 chances for 25% while Vegas has converted 40 opportunities into 7 goals for 17%.

Advantage: Even

Goaltending:

How many times have we seen a red-hot goalie just carry a team to a Stanley Cup when otherwise that team probably shouldn’t have won?  We could be in the middle of that kind of run right now with Fleury.  Vegas is a good team that probably gets to this point if Fleury had normal numbers but in order for them to be the first expansion team to win the Cup he will need to continue his dominance.  Through 10 games he has a .951 save % and 4 shutouts.  Fleury also boasts a .958 even strength save percentage, which is the best in the last 20 years when they began tracking the stat in 1997.  If Vegas is to move on Fleury has to continue this historic run.

Advantage: Vegas

Prediction:

While Fleury has been amazing, he has not seen an offense like the one Winnipeg is about to unload on him.  Fleury will still be solid but the skating, depth, and firepower of the Jets will be too much.  I also think there is value on Winnipeg with the current line of -145.  The implied win probability for that line is 59.2% and that is too.  If these 2 teams played 10 series I think Winnipeg wins at least 6 and probably closer to 7 or even 8. Jets in 5

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