Miracles on Ice: Jets-Knights Mega Preview

Miracles on Ice: Jets-Knights Mega Preview article feature image

The Highlights

  • Coming into the season, Vegas was 100-1 and Winnipeg was 66-1 to win the Stanley Cup.
  • The two preseason longshots will meet in the Western Conference finals with Winnipeg (-145) listed as a slight favorite.
  • Do the Knights have a chance to continue their magical run? Sure, but our team isn’t too keen on their prospects of upsetting Winnipeg.

The Vegas Golden Knights were 100-1 to win the Stanley Cup on Opening Night. The Winnipeg Jets were 66-1. This is what makes sports fun.

At this point, everyone who hasn’t been living the past six months in a Tibetan monastery knows that the Knights are the “story of the year,” and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final would be an enchanting final chapter of this fairy tale.

Standing in the Knights’ way are the Winnipeg Jets — a charming team in its own right. The Jets have taken the step from “up-and-comer” to “juggernaut” this season and are deserved favorites against the upstarts from Vegas.

Vegas and Winnipeg for the Western Conference title. Just like we figured.


The Setup

On the surface, the two cities that will face off for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final have absolutely nothing in common.

But there are more similarities than one might think. The cities with approximate populations of 700,000 have only one major professional sports team and share a love of hockey. Even if the love in Vegas has started to blossom only recently, you can’t deny the passion. Get ready for an amazing atmosphere for every single game in this series — whether in the Sin City or the Peg — as these two newer franchises seek their first Cup appearance.

Vegas took two of the three meetings in the regular season, including the February rubber match in Winnipeg by a score of 3-2 in OT. Marc-Andre Fleury played only in that final matchup; Maxime Lagace started the first two games, which each home team won with ease.

In those three meetings, Vegas went only 2-for-11 (18.2%) on the power play, which has also not had much success in the postseason to date. The Knights have converted on only seven of 40 man-up opportunities; that 17.5% percentage ranks 10th among all playoff teams. On the other hand, Winnipeg has converted 25% of its power-play chances, which you’d expect from a team that converted at the fifth-highest rate during the regular season.

Can Winnipeg continue its success against a Vegas team that has killed off an impressive 85% (second-best clip) of opponent power plays this postseason? Or will the Vegas power play find its way against a Jets team that has struggled on the penalty kill at 74.2% in the playoffs? Both PK units finished the regular season between 81% and 82%.

In a series of two closely matched teams, special teams could make all the difference — assuming both goalies continue their superb level of play. — Stuckey

Betting Market

At the time of writing, Winnipeg is a -145 favorite to win the series over Vegas (+125) at 5Dimes after opening at -150. The current number suggests the Jets have a ~59.2% chance of winning (by the measure of implied probability), while the Knights have 44.4% chance.

Personnel Questions

The Stanley Cup Playoffs have not disappointed so far this year. All of the better teams seem to be advancing, and each series has been extremely tight and hard fought.

What Vegas has done this season with a bunch of guys who were afterthoughts on their previous teams is amazing. They have turned fourth-line-type players on previous teams into an amazing unit that plays a cohesive style.

This Vegas team is driven by two main factors: skating ability and depth. The Knights play a style that gives other teams fits. Most teams in the league have solid first and second lines, and then the depth usually dwindles. What Vegas was able to do with the expansion draft was take a bunch of good second- and third-liners and sprinkle them throughout the lineup, giving head coach Gerard Gallant the luxury of rolling four lines each and every night.

Unfortunately for Knights backers, this is where they finally meet their match.

 

Winnipeg is one of the only teams in the league that can match Vegas’ skating prowess, with guys such as Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele. This team is built to go up and down the ice — like Vegas but better. The Jets also have terrific depth. I mean, they were able to deploy Nikolaj Ehlers and Bryan Little on the fourth line against Nashville in a Game 7. The Jets are also stacked down the middle. The acquisition of Paul Stastny from St. Louis at the deadline is what put this team over the top. The veteran pivot has been a perfect fit since joining and has been able to unlock Laine. The Knights are deep, but no team in the NHL has the ability to roll four lines like Winnipeg can. — Sean Newsham

Under the Hood

How good are the Jets at driving play? In their first-round series against Minnesota, Winnipeg averaged 68.4 shot attempts per 60 minutes (5-on-5, score + venue adjusted). Even though the Wild were without Ryan Suter for that series, they were the best team at limiting shot attempts in the regular season.

The Jets carried that style of play into the second round and were able to basically split the shot share and scoring chances with Nashville, which many consider the best team in the league. The picture I’m trying to paint here is that the Jets are incredibly hard to stop, and they make stopping you look pretty easy.

Vegas’ peripheral numbers also check out, although they faced much easier competition through the first two rounds. The Sharks aren’t a bad team, but they don’t belong at the same table as the Predators.

If this series stays on script, the Jets will control play at even strength and Vegas will look to counterattack and cash in on any opportunity it can create. It’s a dangerous game, but it’s worked for the Knights to this point, so who the heck knows.

The Danger Zone

Through the lens of individual high-danger scoring chances (iHDSC), no player in this series has done more on a per-game basis in this year’s playoffs than James Neal (2.1 per game). On the Winnipeg side, Scheifele owns still impressive 1.58 iHDSC per game, but in terms of generating these chances both teams appear evenly matched. — Joe Holka

Masked Men

It’s never a good thing when a team’s lone hope in a series is that its goalie steals the show, and we’re kind of close to that territory here. Vegas is a solid team, but Winnipeg sits in a different tier. The Jets will have a much higher margin of error throughout this series. Fleury will need to be on his game to give Vegas a good chance.

Luckily for the Golden Knights, Fleury has been outstanding all season long and has taken his game to even loftier heights in the postseason. “Flower” has been the best goalie in the playoffs, and it’s not even close.

On the other end of the ice, Connor Hellebuyck has been solid for Winnipeg. He’s basically given the Jets exactly what they need. Winnipeg is fantastic at controlling shot share and scoring chances, so his workload will be lighter than that of his counterpart. If Hellebuyck can avoid a stinker, the Jets will be in a really good position to win this series no matter how well Fleury plays.

Did You Know?

That was quick. After beating the Nashville Predators in Game 7 on Thursday, Winnipeg hosts Vegas in Game 1 of the West finals Saturday. The Jets have two days to prepare, while the Golden Knights have been off for nearly a week. It seems as if Vegas would have an advantage, but since 2006 there have been 15 playoff games featuring a team with four or more days off against an opponent on two days’ rest, and the team with more time to prepare has gone 7-8 straight-up. And in that same time frame, well-rested teams (four or more days off) such as Vegas are only 16-15 straight-up in the conference finals. — John Ewing

Striking first is going to be crucial. In the regular season and the playoffs, both teams are in the top three in win percentage after scoring the first goal. Vegas has won 83.3% of its games this season when striking first, while Winnipeg has won 80%. (Combined, both teams are 84-19 when scoring first this season.) — Evan Abrams

BlackJack Says

Don’t get me wrong. The Vegas Golden Knights are winning the Stanley Cup. Having said that, I would’ve rather had Nashville than Winnipeg. There are two things about the Jets that scare me. The first is that they get scoring from all four lines, just like the Knights. The second is their netminder.

Hellebuyck is having an outstanding season and is capable of stealing games in this series. Vegas can’t have off nights against him. He needs to be peppered with shots early and often. If he gets too comfortable, the Knights will have a tough time lighting the lamp.

Ultimately, I think Vegas’ depth is too much to overcome. It wears teams down over the course of a playoff series, and I expect it to do the same to Winnipeg. Fleury has been every bit as good as Hellebuyck in these playoffs, recording two shutouts in each series. The Golden Knights are too big, too fast, and too good to lose to the Jets.  — Blackjack Fletcher

Betting the Series

I think there’s plenty of value around the market on Winnipeg to win the series. At the time of writing, BetOnline has the Jets listed at -139, which is an implied probability of ~58.1%. I think Winnipeg wins this series more often than that, and I would take anything up to -145. — Michael Leboff

Picks

Newsham: Jets in 6
Leboff: Jets in 5
Blackjack Fletcher: Vegas in 6
Stuckey: Jets in 7
Holka: Jets in 7


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