Sunday, May 27, 2018 | 2 a.m.
A year ago, a $5 bet on the Vegas Golden Knights to win the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season would have paid as much as $2,500.
The same wager would yield as little as $2.94 today.
The Golden Knights wrap up one of the most extraordinary seasons in sports history with yet another unbelievable wrinkle — They’re favored to win the Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals ahead of game 1 at 5 p.m. Monday at T-Mobile Arena. And favored at a decent price at that.
Vegas is as high as a minus-170 (risking $1.70 to win $1) to win the title against Washington locally. That would be the highest series price for a Stanley Cup Final since 2012, when the Los Angeles Kings had lost only two postseason games before dispatching the New Jersey Devils in six games.
In fairness, the Golden Knights are more commonly in the minus-150 range in Las Vegas sports books, where the fan base has bet up their numbers all season. Offshore shops might provide more telling markets in this case because of their lack of bias, and they’re slightly more restrained with the chances of the Golden Knights, mostly making them a minus-135 favorite.
Washington comes back at as low as plus-115 (risking $1 to win $1.15) offshore and as high as plus-150 at Nevada books. Vegas vs. Washington is a wild matchup that surely only a minuscule number of the participants in the NHL’s Bracket Challenge pinpointed, but that’s nothing new for the league.
Let’s just say this year’s NHL Playoffs haven’t done much to refute the idea that they’re inherently volatile, with hockey’s postseason the most parity-driven of America’s major professional sports.
Going into the playoffs, future odds had Vegas as only the third-most likely western conference representative in the Stanley Cup — at 9-to-2 behind Nashville and Winnipeg. Washington was tied for fourth in the eastern conference, equal to Toronto at 7-to-1 but behind Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Boston.
The Golden Knights would have been underdogs in the Stanley Cup Final to any of the latter three.
Put it all together, and the lines implied less than a 3 percent chance that this would be the final pairing at the start of the playoffs.
To reach the championship series, the Golden Knights and Capitals also cooperated with another postseason cliché — That the NHL Playoffs are all about goalie play. Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is in the middle of on all-time great playoff run with a 1.68 goals against average and .947 save percentage.
Only nine other goalies in the NHL’s modern era arrived to the Stanley Cup with a better GAA, according to Hockey Reference’s player finder. Their teams went 7-2 in the final.
Fleury has increased his lead as the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, as he’s minus-155 at William Hill sports books. Washington counterpart Braden Holtby is the plus-600 third choice.
Unlike Fleury, Holtby has struggled at times throughout the playoffs — he’s at a 2.04 GAA and a .924 save percentage, numbers that are still impressive but not historic — but emerged as the unofficial MVP of the eastern conference finals. Holtby led the Capitals out of a 3-2 series hole to the Lightning by going the final 159 minutes without allowing a goal.
The vast majority of wagers on Monday’s game 1 are still to come, but it seems likely that the Golden Knights at minus-145 and under 5.5 goals will be popular plays.
Don’t get over-confident at the betting window, though. If the NHL Playoffs have proven anything, it’s that they’re unpredictable.