Vegas vs Minnesota: Round 1, Free Picks, Odds & Predictions

Vegas Golden Knights vs Minnesota Wild
Vegas vs. Minnesota, Division Semifinals, May 16, T-Mobile Arena

It feels like the Vegas Golden Knights have just broken the Minnesota Wild’s spirit with their 4-0 win in Game 4 to head back to Las Vegas with a chance to close out the series. Vegas couldn’t buy a goal at the start of this series, but since scoring its first goal, it has outscored the Wild 12-2. The final nail might have been Saturday’s win when Vegas scored three times on 17 shots against Cam Talbot then added an empty-net goal while Marc-Andre Fleury pitched a 35-save shutout. Minnesota might as well head to the casinos to try and find some good luck for Monday’s Game 5.

Game 5 (Vegas Golden Knights lead 3-1)

May 24, 10:30 p.m., T-Mobile Arena

Marc-Andre Fleury continues to be on top of his game, turning aside all 35 shots he faced to backstop the Vegas Golden Knights to a win in Game 4. The Minnesota Wild threw as much as they could at Fleury, but continued to be befuddled by the veteran netminder, who now has a .966 save percentage in this series. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights offense continued to dominate when they had the puck, which was a rarity in Game 4. The Wild nearly doubled the Golden Knights’ output with a 35-18 edge in shots, but it was Vegas who made the most of its opportunities, scoring three times on 17 shots against Cam Talbot.

We knew entering this series that it was going to be difficult for Minnesota to score, but the Wild are certainly not doing enough to be competitive in this series. Talbot had to carry the Wild in Game 1 and the early parts of Game 2, but his margin of error is razor thin. Game 4 was clearly not an accurate representation of Talbot’s talent, but Minnesota’s offense is in the state right now where Talbot needs to be basically perfect to match Fleury at the other end. Talbot can do that for one game, maybe two, but the Wild need to score more than two goals to beat Vegas and it’s been a struggle to score one most games. The odd part about this is Minnesota has scored as many goals on 16 shots in Game 3 as it has on 100 shots in the other three games in this series. The Wild don’t need to just rack up shots, though, they need to find a way to make those shots dangerous and that is where they have struggled in this series.

The narrative around the Golden Knights has changed considerably within the last week. Vegas had 42 shots and couldn’t score in Game 1 then struggled to score in the first half of Game 2 as well. However, since Jonathan Marchessault’s goal to tie Game 2, Vegas has outscored Minnesota 12-2. It was as if that one goal opened the floodgates for this potent Vegas offense that ranked third in the NHL this season in goals scored. Meanwhile, Fleury and the league’s best defense continues to put the kibosh on the Wild, who have scored just four times in 12-plus periods in this series. It’s the goaltending and defense that continues to stand out about Vegas because that is what wins teams games in the Stanley Cup playoffs. If the Golden Knights are able to get Fleury into a groove and he can stay in that rhythm, that is going to carry Vegas a long ways.

It’s a foolish endeavor to bet against Vegas at the moment because it is clear they have cracked this series wide open. Talbot is more vulnerable than he was in the first game and a half while Fleury as only become stronger in this first week of the NHL playoffs. It doesn’t feel like a question of if the Golden Knights are going to close out the Wild on Monday in Game 5, but how badly will Vegas beat Minnesota. The top sports betting sites in New Jersey seem confident the Golden Knights will win by multiple goals based on their odds. It helps Vegas’ case that Game 5 is in Las Vegas, which will only add to the energy in the building Monday. I’m confident in the Golden Knights to finish the series at home, so I’ll bet on Vegas laying 2.5 goals at +290 odds. I’ll follow that up at the top hockey betting sites in New Jersey by betting on Vegas to score over 4.5 goals for +340 odds, putting an exclamation point on the first round.

BET ON VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS TO WIN

Game 6

May 26, TBD, Xcel Energy Center

 

Game 7

May 28, TBD, T-Mobile Arena

 

Game 1

May 16, 3 p.m., T-Mobile Arena

If there was one team who could slow down the Vegas Golden Knights this season outside of Colorado, it is the Minnesota Wild. In fact, the Wild won five of the eight meetings this year with Vegas and two of the Golden Knights’ three wins required overtime. The 12 points are the most any team took off Vegas this season and are a cause for a pause at least when looking at this NHL playoffs first-round series matchup. Despite the fact Minnesota accounted for half of Vegas’ losses since April 1, the Golden Knights are the clear favorites in this series after tying the Avalanche atop the division and league with 82 points and losing out on a tiebreaker. Minnesota, meanwhile, won just five of its last 10 games, including consecutive ugly losses to St. Louis to conclude the regular season.

The biggest downside the Wild have entering this series is their youth and inexperience in the playoffs. Four of Minnesota’s top-five scorers this season are 24 years old or younger, which is great for the future of this team, but most of their playoff experience came last year when the Wild were bounced in the qualifying round at the bubble. As an organization, the Wild have lost in the first round three other times and missed the playoffs once since last winning a playoff series in 2014-15. It is impossible to talk about this year’s team, though, without mentioning Kirill Kaprizov, who seems to be the favorite for the Calder Trophy after leading the Wild with 27 goals and 51 points. Kevin Fiala also added 20 goals and 20 assists to finish second on the Wild in both categories, but the big question in Minnesota is the goaltending duo of Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen, and whether they will be able to hold up in the postseason after allowing at least three goals in each of the final 10 games of the season.

There wasn’t much that the Golden Knights did wrong down the stretch of the season after winning 16 of their final 20 games. They nearly outscored their opponents in that stretch while allowing just two goals per game in that span. Vegas had the best defense in the league this season by allowing just 122 goals in 56 games this season and the Golden Knights ranked third in scoring with 190 goals. With Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty leading the way, the Golden Knights have a strong group of offensive weapons, but we’ve seen that offense disappear in the postseason before, notably in last year’s conference finals. Vegas cannot rely solely on Marc-Andre Fleury and his sub-2 goals against average and six shutouts to backstop the team. In six starts against Minnesota this season, Fleury was 3-3 with a 2.41 goals against average and .919 save percentage, well below his season statistics.

The legal sports betting sites in New Jersey have made Vegas a hefty favorite in this series, so it is a challenge to find good value in wagering on the series as a whole. The best place to start is figuring out how many games Minnesota could win in this series. Despite winning the season series with Vegas, the way the Wild ended the season scares me when compared to the juggernaut Vegas was in the final month and a half. Every sportsbook has a different view on how long it will take Vegas to dispatch Minnesota, and stack the odds, accordingly. I’m betting on the Golden Knights to win in five games at +400 odds, though you can find the same odds for Vegas to win in six games at other sportsbooks. What’s more is you can find NHL playoffs betting sites that allow wagers on the series score after the first three games, and this is where I add a little bit to a potential payout by betting on Vegas to win all three games at +350 odds.

The first game in any Stanley Cup playoffs series sets the tone for the next two weeks, and I expect the Golden Knights to come out flying at home. Vegas was one of the best teams in the league over the final third of the season and Minnesota really struggled in the final 10 games of the season. The Golden Knights’ most dominant efforts against Minnesota this season came at home, and Vegas finished with the fifth-best record at home in the NHL this season. Vegas scored eight combined goals in their final two games against Minnesota, and I expect a similarly strong offensive effort to open this series, so I’ll bet on the Golden Knights to score over 4 goals at +215 odds, giving myself a chance to push. As for the game itself, I’m betting on a multi-goal Vegas win by picking the Golden Knights laying 1.5 goals at +150 odds.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS TO WIN

Game 2 (Minnesota Wild lead 1-0)

May 18, 10 p.m., T-Mobile Arena

Joel Eriksson Ek broke the scoreless tie three minutes and 20 seconds into overtime to lift the Minnesota Wild to an improbable Game 1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. It was another nightmarish game in the NHL playoffs for Vegas, which held a 42-30 advantage in shots and had 23 other attempts blocked by the Wild’s defense, but could not solve Cam Talbot. Meanwhile, the Wild continued their surprising success over the Golden Knights with a sixth win in nine meetings this season with the team that tied for the most points in the NHL during the regular season. The only saving grace for Vegas was that leading scorer Max Pacioretty was out of the lineup due to injury and he could return any day now after also missing the team’s last six regular-season contests.

It’s the same old story for the Golden Knights once again in the NHL playoffs, a trend that is beyond scary at this point. Vegas was eliminated last year because it could not convert dominance in possession and scoring chances into goals and victories. In last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, the Golden Knights lost eight games, and on seven occasions it held at least a 10-shot advantage in the game. In five of those contests, Vegas had at least 40 shots and three times it scored one goal or fewer, but never did the Golden Knights score more than two goals in a defeat. This isn’t an issue of running into a hot goalie or one that was playing out of his mind, but the Golden Knights are feeding the confidence into opposing goaltenders with their play. Vegas had 42 shots on goal, including six spread over three power plays, and could not score Sunday. The issue for the Golden Knights is they continue to dominate games and control possession, but cannot convert that into victories in these crucial games. There isn’t a magic formula to solve that issue, either, which is even more troubling for Vegas.

As much as I was just bashing Vegas for failing to score, Cam Talbot does deserve immense credit for keeping the Wild in the game by pitching that shutout. Minnesota actually performed far better on offense than most teams against the Golden Knights. The 30 shots Minnesota put on goal in the game were the most since the Wild had 32 shots on goal on May 3. But the Wild were also the more physical team with 71 hits, which certainly played a part in Vegas’ struggles. Sometimes certain teams are just bad matchups for others, and it certainly feels like Minnesota is a poor matchup for Vegas, as the Wild’s style of play again gave the Golden Knights trouble. Minnesota was the only team in the West Division to have a winning record against Vegas, and all of the reasons why were on display in the Wild’s Game 1 victory.

It seems like a matter of time until Vegas scores a goal on Talbot, but the more the Wild goalie stymies them, the more frustrated the Golden Knights are going to become. An early goal will do wonders for Vegas’ confidence, and I expect the Golden Knights will have that bundle of energy to start the game. However, if Minnesota can survive those first few shifts without conceding a goal, I think the Wild will be able to do some damage. The top sport betting sites in New Jersey disagree with me as Vegas is a rightful favorite, but I am quickly losing faith in these Golden Knights. The offense is simply too inconsistent and though I’d bet on Marc-Andre Fleury to again be excellent, betting on him to pitch a shutout is difficult. The easiest way to bet my feelings is to take Minnesota on the moneyline at +138 odds on the top NHL betting sites in New Jersey. But I’m going to take it a step further by betting on yet another low-scoring contest by betting under 4.5 total goals for +210 odds at those top hockey betting sites in New Jersey.

BET ON MINNESOTA WILD TO WIN

Game 3 (Series tied 1-1)

May 20, 9:30 p.m., Xcel Energy Center

Jonathan Marchessault answered Matt Dumba’s tally just 18 seconds after the Minnesota Wild defenseman gave the visitors the lead, boosting the Vegas Golden Knights to an important 3-1 win in Game 2 on Tuesday. The Wild actually outshot the Golden Knights 35-28, but the real battle was simply getting shots through the layers of defense from both teams. Minnesota blocked 26 shot attempts and Vegas put itself in the way of 20 attempts, protecting Cam Talbot and Marc-Andre Fleury from facing more shots. Fleury was on top of his game with 34 saves while Talbot stopped just 25 of the 28 shots he saw, surrendering a power-play goal late in the third period for the final nail in the coffin.

It’s hard to see how the Wild aren’t leaving Las Vegas and heading home full of confidence after those two games against the Golden Knights. They pitched a shutout in Game 1 to steal home-ice advantage then played Vegas really competitively in Game 2 while holding an advantage in shots. The level of defense the Wild have shown in the first two games of these NHL playoffs is exactly what a team needs to do in order to compete with Vegas. The issue for Minnesota is finding ways to generate offense against the Golden Knights because one goal per game just isn’t going to cut it. Minnesota needs to not just generate shots in regulation, but must also create dangerous scoring chances and convert on them in order to actually take down Vegas in a seven-game series. The defense is already there, but it won’t matter without an improved offense.

During the regular season, the Golden Knights scored 3.39 goals per game, the third-most in the NHL. Vegas, though, has struggled to score for most of the first two games in these Stanley Cup playoffs on home ice. Some of that is the opponent because Minnesota has played well against Vegas in these first two games, but a lot of it is on the Golden Knights themselves. Scoring in the playoffs is a mindset and it feels like Vegas doesn’t have it sometimes, which is why it has struggled over the last two years to score in the postseason. I am not sure how the Golden Knights would have reacted if Marchessault didn’t answer Minnesota’s goal so quickly and Vegas actually had to play while trailing for a few minutes. Yes, the Golden Knights likely would have dictated the play as they typically do, but the mental component of this game is vital, and I would be fearful of Vegas losing confidence during a prolonged dry spell. That is going to be a point to watch as the series shifts to Minnesota on Thursday.

Vegas is certainly the favorite at the top sports betting sites in New Jersey, but the margin isn’t as wide as it was in the first two games in the series. The sportsbooks are showing far more respect for Minnesota as the Wild prove themselves as a formidable foe for the Golden Knights in addition to the changing of home ice. However, I am still concerned about Minnesota’s ability to score against Fleury and the Golden Knights defense. On the other hand, I don’t know if Vegas will be able to win by multiple goals like it did in Game 2. It makes for a difficult betting situation, but I’ll go out on a limb and bet on another overtime contest at +325 odds from the top hockey betting sites in New Jersey. We’ll also hammer the under in this game, betting under 4.5 total goals at +205 odds after watching these two teams struggle to score through two games.

BET ON VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS TO WIN

Game 4 (Vegas Golden Knights lead 2-1)

May 22, 8 p.m., Xcel Energy Center

Sometimes it’s a few moments in the Stanley Cup playoffs that win or lose a team a game. In the case of the Minnesota Wild, it was the entire second period that cost it Game 3 against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Wild scored twice in the first period Thursday then put a third puck in the net before Vegas successfully challenged for offsides. However, the Golden Knights dominated the middle stanza by outshooting the Wild 22-5 and by the end of 40 minutes, Vegas led 3-2. That was all the confidence the Golden Knights needed to close out the game with two more goals in the third period while dominating possession yet again.

It was always going to take a 60-minute effort for the Wild to beat Vegas in this series – and the Wild’s one win thus far took more than 60 minutes. But Minnesota really dropped the ball in the second period by squandering a 2-0 lead at the first intermission and giving Vegas the necessary confidence to roll to an easy victory. The Wild were badly outshot 40-16 and they gave Vegas five chances on the power play, which produced 13 shots and no goals. Vegas doesn’t need help generating offense and Minnesota gifted the Golden Knights time and space in the attacking zone to help create the chances that got Vegas back into the game. Cam Talbot has played really well in the NHL playoffs so far, and if the Wild are just going to ask him to steal them games like he did in Game 1 then this series will be over fairly quickly.

Vegas somehow had the league’s third-best offense despite having the NHL’s 22nd-best power play. That is an important area where Vegas needs to take better advantage if it wants to put away the pesky Wild earlier in games. The Golden Knights had 13 of their 40 shots on the power play, but Vegas did not score on any of its five chances on the man advantage. In addition, Vegas would have been down 3-0 in the first period if not for a successful offsides challenge that took away Joel Eriksson Ek’s second goal. Minnesota had just 16 shots in the game and two of them beat Marc-Andre Fleury because the Golden Knights weren’t ready to play when the puck dropped on Game 3. Vegas needs to be far more prepared to play a full 60-minute game and not allow Minnesota to capitalize on the few chances the Golden Knights concede to the Wild.

In the same game, we saw what makes the Golden Knights favorites on the top hockey betting sites in New Jersey for Game 4 on Saturday and why Vegas could easily head home with an even series. Once the first two goals go in and the Golden Knights start to feel more confident at seeing the puck in the net, it is hard to slow down the Vegas offense. But if the Golden Knights can’t convert that possession and those scoring chances into goals, the door is open for Minnesota to win if it converts on its chances. A lower-scoring game is going to benefit Minnesota because the Wild don’t need to convert as many of their scarce opportunities in order to win. Unfortunately, it seems like Vegas has figured out Talbot and that spells trouble for Minnesota if it can’t find ways to generate more offense. I’m not confident in the Wild to slow down the Golden Knights or find more offense, so I’m betting Vegas to win in regulation at +135 odds from the top sports betting sites in New Jersey.

BET ON VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS TO WIN

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

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