Panthers-Capitals series preview: Betting by the numbers

Every hockey fan knows any NHL team can win on any given night. The league's parity is part of the draw, especially come playoff time. So, it's hard to wrap your head around the idea of a team being 90% likely to win a postseason series.

History is littered with big first-round upsets and even more near-misses. In 2018, the Capitals lost the first two games at home and found themselves in overtime in Game 3 against Sergei Bobrovsky and the Columbus Blue Jackets. They survived OT, won the next three games, and went on to win their first Stanley Cup after being inches away from doom.

If the Caps had lost that first series, their playoff ineptitude of the last three seasons would be viewed as part of a decade of postseason failure.

By virtually all metrics, the Panthers were the NHL's best team this season, which might've been more predictable if it weren't for their first-round series loss a year ago. Florida faced its in-state rival and outplayed the eventual Stanley Cup champions at even strength throughout the six-game matchup. However, the Lightning's power play, and the struggles of Panthers goaltender Bobrovsky, proved too much to overcome.

With the starting job in question this season, Bobrovsky showed up ready to compete. Of all the playoff goaltenders, the Panthers' big investment in the summer of 2019 has the seventh-best goals saved above expectation (GSAx) at even strength.

Series Odds

Panthers -225 -340 FLA -1.5 (-150)
Capitals +180 +260 WSH +1.5 (+130)

Projected prices

Hopefully, you used our NHL betting guide to evaluate your bets during the regular season and what value truly means in hockey. For the playoffs, we're using even-strength-centric metrics like expected goals and high-danger chance rates, as well as high-danger conversion rates - both for and against - to try to predict who'll play better in the postseason.

Due to the special circumstances of the season, which includes some tainted results from before the All-Star break when COVID-19 ravaged lineups, we're weighing the second half more than we normally would. Lastly, we'll make use of a formula to factor in home ice that includes each team's moneyline win percentage with the league average win probability differential.

True moneylines

The true moneyline takes the implied win probability for each team and converts it to an inverted price for each side before the sportsbook takes its vig on a bet.

The following is the expected price for each side when the games are played in Florida (Games 1, 2, 5, and 7), and Washington (Games 3, 4, and 6).

True ML in Florida -326 +326
True ML in Washington -240 +240
Series Price -1151 +1151

Price to bet

In the regular season, we needed at least a 4% edge on an underdog and a 1% edge for the favorite. Using that same threshold, here are the prices to bet for each scenario:

GAME 1/2/5/7 GAME 3/4/6 SERIES
Panthers -308 -229 -1012
Capitals +413 +294 +2406

If nothing else, these numbers should provide a warning against betting on the Capitals in any way, shape, or form. Whether you want to lay a big price on backing the Panthers is up to you, but value exists whether there's a plus or minus sign in the odds.

Derivative market

Series result Probability / Converted Odds
Panthers 4-0 29.2% / +243
Panthers 4-1 32.3% / +210
Panthers 4-2 19.3% / +419
Panthers 4-3 11.3% / +788
Capitals 4-0 0.5% / +20849
Capitals 4-1 1.3% / +7780
Capitals 4-2 2.8% / +3490
Capitals 4-3 3.5% / +2791

There's value in this matchup in an "earlier the better" strategy. A Panthers sweep is available at +500, and a 4-1 finish is +290. After that, it becomes -EV to bet on the series. You can capture both by backing Florida on the series spread of -2.5 at +150.

Best bet

The series price for the Panthers opened at -280, but the market agreed with me that it was too short. Now up to -320, and having been as high as -390, the edge is still in the double digits. It's just a matter of whether you're willing to risk the big price in a league with a long history of big surprises.

The Capitals have no real home-ice advantage and a pedestrian power play despite the presence of Alex Ovechkin. Their even-strength metrics are subpar, even considering a better-than-average high-danger chance conversion rate (17.9%) post-All-Star break.

Washington is the only team in the playoffs that I've rated below average after weighting for play after the break. Florida has just enough experience and a clean bill of health, so there's no reason why the Panthers won't make quick work of the Capitals in Round 1.

Pick: Panthers series -1.5 (-150)

Panthers series -2.5 (+150)

Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there's a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.

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