Minnesota Wild vs Vegas Golden Knights NHL Playoff Series Predictions
This first-round matchup between the Minnesota Wild and Vegas Golden Knights could easily be the hardest series to predict. Why? Well because the Golden Knights finished second overall in the entire league – level with Colorado for most points – and second in the division, seven points up on Minnesota, yet they actually have a losing record against the Wild. Yes, Vegas finished the regular-season series against the Wild with just a 3-5 record, which is absurd given how dominant they were at times this season. Hockey has a funny way of evening out the playing surface as we’ve seen time and time again; a certain team just having another team’s number.
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So what do the sportsbooks think? Well, despite the losing record Vegas owns, they’ve pegged the Golden Knights as -260 series favorites and -170 to win Game 1. If you think the Vegas can get back to the Cup Final and taste glory, you can grab them at +550 to do so. If you are like me and believe the Wild can stymie the Golden Knights’ high-powered attack, you can grab them at +210 to win the series or +1600 to win the Cup.
The goal for these preview pieces is to help inform you/remind you which team has the edge on both ends of the rink. Last year’s “bubble” hockey scenario was a weird one and tough to handicap. However, with teams playing in their home barns, and without any fans, things should be similar this season.
Goaltending & Defense
I know all 12 Minnesota Wild fans will quiver when they read this, but the best option for the Wild in net is Cam Talbot. Talbot has shown us at times that he can be a serviceable goalie and, in some instances, he’s shown us how flat-out bad he can be. Wild fans will be hoping for the prior and Talbot will have some experience to fall back on in this year’s playoffs. Talbot finished the year with a record of 19-8-5 with 2.63 goals-against average. In 25 playoff appearances, he’s been solid as well, posting a .923 save percentage with four shutouts. Can he return to that form? Or will he forget how to play hockey like we’ve seen him do time and time again when he was with Edmonton? If that happens, the Wild won’t like the alternative, which is to throw Kaapo Kahkonen into the fire since he struggled down the stretch after a promising opening portion of the season.
As for Vegas, they pride themselves on being one of the best defensive teams in the league, and their stats this year show how hard they work to achieve that status. They rank first overall in goals allowed per game, fourth overall in shots per game, and first in penalty kill percentage. Those stats are an indication of not only a great goalie, but a great team and system in front of the netminder. It does help the Golden Knights cause that they have Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner to rely on in net. Fleury is the third-winningest goalie in NHL history, and this season he’s turned in another stellar year, leading the league in goals saved above average and finishing third in wins, fourth in goals-against average, eighth in save percentage and third in shutouts. I don’t believe Vegas will lose this series because of goaltending issues.
Offense & Special Teams
The Wild are a weird team. They rank eighth in the league in goals per game at 3.21, but they rank 28th in the league with shots on goal (28.3 per game) and they rank 23rd on the power play, connecting at just a 17.5 percent clip. So, how are they scoring all these goals? Well, their shooting percentage is second overall at an absurd 11.4 percent. Is that sustainable? Well, they did it through 56 games, so what’s another four or five games? I say it’s possible. However, as we all know, the playoffs are a different beast. The Wild are led in scoring by rookie sensation Kirill Kaprizov, who tallied 27 goals and 24 assists for 51 points in 55 games. The next closest player to him was Kevin Fiala, who hit 20 goals and 20 assists for 40 points. There is a big stink going around the hockey world about if Kaprizov should be eligible for the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year), since he has already played four years professionally in the KHL. That’s a debate for another day. However, when your team has to rely on an “NHL rookie” to lead you in scoring, the chance of going deep into the postseason are very slim.
As for the Golden Knights, they have one of the league’s top offenses as they rank third overall in goals per game (3.39), fourth overall in shots on goal per game (32.7) and eighth overall in shooting percentage (10.4). The way the Golden Knights are built to play is for speed and aggression, and we believe that’s a recipe for success when the playoffs roll around. Not only are they quick in on the forecheck, but they can break out of their zone in a hurry and get the transition game going north and south with a purpose. The Golden Knights are led in scoring by Mark Stone. Stone netted 21 times and assisted 40 times for 61 points in 55 games. Behind him, Max Pacioretty helped with 51 points (24g/27a), and Jonathan Marchessault and Shea Theodore both contributed 44 and 42 points, respectively. The Golden Knights are balanced and have the ability to overwhelm the Wild.
There is a reason why the Golden Knights are such big favorites in this series. They have the edge in coaching, between the pipes, on the blue line, and upfront with their forwards. However, hockey is a funny sport. When a team has your number, anything can happen, especially in a seven-game series. Would I bet the Golden Knights at this price, no, but I do think they’ll get out of this series after a hard-fought and hotly contested six games.
Pick: Golden Knights in Six.
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