Joe Buglewicz/Las Vegas News Bureau
Saturday, May 12, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Local gamblers have soared all year by breaking sports betting’s cardinal rule of not betting with their hearts when it comes to the Vegas Golden Knights.
They’re not about to stop now with the home team one series away from the Stanley Cup Finals. As soon as the Winnipeg Jets secured their spot in the Western Conference Finals against Vegas with a 5-1 victory over the Nashville Predators in a game 7 Thursday night, bettors sprung their bias back into action in casinos.
The Jets initially opened as high as a minus-160 (risking $1.60 to win $1) favorite over the Golden Knights, which came back at plus-140 (risking $1 to win $1.40), to win the series locally. Those prices didn’t last long, as the odds settled almost uniformly on Winnipeg laying minus-140 to Vegas’ plus-120.
The line for game 1, scheduled for 4 p.m. today at Winnipeg’s Bell MTS Arena, underwent an identical 20-cent shift. Winnipeg went from as high as minus-150 to as low as minus-130; Vegas is now as low as plus-110 but more widely available at plus-120.
After adjusting for the house’s hold percentage, the odds calculate to around a 43 percent likelihood that Vegas continues its historic inaugural season. Cue the celebration for local fans buying into the evidence-supported theory that the Golden Knights thrive when doubted.
And there are certainly people and systems doubting them more than local oddsmakers. The betting lines don’t go as far in discounting Vegas’ chances against Winnipeg as most analytical statistics, which for the first time this postseason are decisively against the Golden Knights.
One prominent Corsi-based model placed the win probability split at 64/36 in favor of Winnipeg for the series. That would mean, after accounting for hold, Winnipeg should be a much higher favorite — in the neighborhood of minus-190.
It’s hard not to imagine everyone — even non-fans — gorging on the Golden Knights at that price, however, because of the way goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has played this postseason. The three-time Stanley Cup champion has posted an exceptional .951 save percentage and 1.53 goals against average, which easily lead the four remaining starters in the playoffs.
Fleury has moved into the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy — awarded to the most valuable player in the playoffs — at plus-400, edging Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov, Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin.
Goalkeeping is usually cited as the most crucial element to postseason success, and even though Winnipeg has gotten stellar production from Connor Hellebuyck, the young netminder hasn’t been on Fleury’s level in the playoffs by any measure. So how then are the Jets still favored over the Golden Knights?
Well, most breakdowns would give them the edge in every other area. Led by Scheifele’s playoff-high 11 goals and 16 points — the most among remaining players — the Jets’ offense has been a juggernaut.
They’ve scored 43 postseason goals to the Golden Knights’ 29 goals. In fairness, Winnipeg has played two extra games but its offense still rates out significantly higher by per-game averages.
Home-ice advantage also figures to be significant, despite the Jets losing two of three games at MTS Arena to the Predators. Winnipeg not only had the best home record in the NHL this season, but it was also the lone team in the league that was a more profitable home bet than Vegas.
The latter accomplishment is particularly amazing considering the Golden Knights racked up a big moneymaking margin early in the year at T-Mobile Arena when they were incorrectly power-rated as one of the worst teams in the league.
None of these edges, of course, matter much to the Golden Knights’ followers. They’ve seen Vegas beat Winnipeg in two of three regular-season matchups.
And they’re betting with their hearts, which have pumped their bankrolls full of profit all season long.