The Vegas Golden Knights shocked the hockey world—at least from a historical perspective—when they played like anything but an expansion team during the regular season and won the Pacific Division title.
The Golden Knights were one of the NHL's best home teams (29-10-2), and head coach Gerard Gallant got the most out of his players. William Karlsson went from an ordinary player with the Columbus Blue Jackets to a star who scored 43 goals. Jonathan Marchessault scored 75 points, and players like Reilly Smith, David Perron and Colin Miller became key contributors.
Vegas passed the regular-season test with flying colors. However, if the Golden Knights don't know, they will quickly find out that playoff hockey is a different test. The Los Angeles Kings will provide the opposition in the first round for the Golden Knights, and it could be a difficult lesson for a first-year team to handle.
But then again, the Golden Knights quickly proved they can overcome expectations, and they may yet be able to shock the NHL again in the postseason.
The Stanley Cup playoffs get underway Wednesday when the Golden Knights host the Kings in Game 1. The Pittsburgh Penguins host the Philadelphia Flyers in another series that gets underway Wednesday, as do the Winnipeg Jets and the Minnesota Wild. The other five first-round playoff series get underway Thursday. Here's a link to the schedule for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, per NHL.com.
The Penguins are the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, and they won the title last year by beating the Nashville Predators in six game in the Stanley Cup Final.
That series apparently has spurred the Predators on this season, as they won the Presidents' Trophy during the regular season. Nashville is favored to win the Stanley Cup with odds of +375, according to OddsShark.
A $100 wager on the Predators will return $475 to the bettor ($375 profit plus the original $100 bet) if they are able to raise the Stanley Cup at the end of the season.
The Boston Bruins, who would have taken the Atlantic Division and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference had they defeated the Florida Panthers in Sunday's season finale, are the second choice at +550. The Bruins lost that season finale and finished second to the Tampa Bay Lighting, the No. 3 choice at +600. The Golden Knights are the fourth choice at +750.
The Predators made it to the Stanley Cup Final as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference last season, and the Stanley Cup playoffs has seen lower seeds regularly overcome their lack of home-ice advantage. It would not be a shock if one of those seeds comes through again this year.
The Lightning would appear to have a big advantage over the eighth-seeded New Jersey Devils, but it may not be quite so easy. While the Lightning have explosive scoring from Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point, they were much stronger on the defensive end in the early part of the season than they were in the second half.
Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy finished the season with a 2.62 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage, and there is some vulnerability.
The Devils feature explosive Taylor Hall, a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate after scoring 39 goals and 54 assists for 93 points. The Devils also got a lift from goalie Keith Kinkaid, and they could push the Lightning to the limit in their series.
Tampa Bay over New Jersey in seven.
Boston over Toronto in seven.
Washington over Columbus in five.
Philadelphia over Pittsburgh in six.
Nashville over Colorado in five.
Winnipeg over Minnesota in four.
Los Angeles over Vegas in seven.
San Jose over Anaheim in seven.