There is just one game on tonight's NHL slate — the only Game 7 that has been featured in this first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Let's get to it.
Minnesota Wild (+150) @ Vegas Golden Knights (-185) — Total: 5
I don't know what it is about the Minnesota Wild that brings out the worst in the Vegas Golden Knights, but here we are.
Vegas is back in a familiar place: The playoffs, about to squander another 3-1 series lead.
It's hard to imagine the team not having nightmares right now about that series with the Sharks, but they would do well to focus on the opponent at hand now. This Wild team has taken their play to another level in the playoffs — specifically on the defensive side of the puck.
You could also say that as good as Minnesota has looked locking things up, the Knights have also gone completely cold on offense, and that could be due to the absence of Max Pacioretty. As deep and as talented as the Knights are, Pacioretty's instant offense has been more than missed — its absence has been detrimental to the Vegas attack as a whole. There is a slight hope he returns to the ice for the first time since May 1 in Game 7, but his status is still up in the air at time of this writing.
Looking deeper though, neither offense has set the world on fire this series. Both teams have prioritized puck control, tight defense, and elite goaltending in favor of all-out, faced-paced attacking. You can play that way when you have elite goalies in net, though the usually dependable Marc-Andre Fleury has struggled his last two games, allowing seven total goals. There have even been rumblings of the Knights turning to backup Robin Lehner for this winner-take-all game.
I personally think that would be a mistake. The Knights have scored two measly goals their last two games; it's hard to win when your goaltender isn't receiving any support. That said, I understand why coach Pete DeBoer would seek a spark here in Game 7. Whether that comes from Lehner or the return of Pacioretty remains to be seen.
Oddsmakers have seemingly reflected the public's steadfast faith in Vegas, regardless of how good the Wild have looked the past two games. It'll cost you a whopping $185 to back Vegas on the money line just to get back one unit. The puck line at +150 is a bit more inviting, but it's hard to trust the Knights to win by two goals when they've barely shown any offense the past two games. With that said, they did score 24 more goals at home than they did on the road in 2021, though that hasn't shown up in the playoffs.
Suffice it to say, the Wild have all the momentum heading into this game. Them being +150 on the money line is probably less about them punching above their weight class and more about the public's disbelief on the Knights blowing yet another 3-1 playoff lead.
Oddsmakers have also caught up to how defensive this series has been, with the total coming in at a measly 5. In fact, to win $100 on the favored OVER, you'd have to risk $145 — that's how low a total of 5 is in 2021 hockey.
This is a tough one.
As mentioned before, I feel Max Pacioretty is the X-factor for this Game 7. If he's activated and plays, I think the Knights win this one comfortably. If not, the Wild might just send the Knights packing, another disappointing end for a Vegas team built to make it to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
And, hey, if it counts for anything, Pete DeBoer has never lost a Game 7 in his playoff career as a coach *shrugs*.
Even at a very trappy-looking +120, I also have to side with the UNDER. Minnesota has no reason to move away from the strategy that has worked for them the last two games, and it's unlikely the Knights decide to let loose with reckless abandon, not when Fleury has shown signs of being human lately. That said, because I'm always looking for a trend no matter how empty it might be, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that in elimination games these playoffs — when one team has been eliminated — the game has gone OVER four out of six games (do with that information what you will).
Even so, at plus money, I'm comfortable putting something small on what I expect to be another tight, clean game.
Pick(s): IF PACIORETTY PLAYS: Vegas Golden Knights -1.5 (+150) / IF NO PACIORETTY: UNDER 5 (+120)