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Stanley Cup Game 1 best bets: Golden Knights to draw first blood

Ethan Miller / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The Stanley Cup Final begins this weekend, with the Golden Knights playing host to the Panthers in a battle of Sunbelt teams.

Let's take a look at the best ways to approach the series opener.

Panthers (+110) @ Golden Knights (-130)

I am expecting a close and competitive series here - one that starts with a Golden Knights win.

The Golden Knights have been impressive through three rounds. They haven't just beaten their opponents; they've dismantled them.

At five-on-five, the Golden Knights have scored 3.42 goals per 60 minutes. No other playoff team has cleared three. The Panthers aren't even close to that number, scoring 2.15 per 60.

Scoring goals isn't as much of a priority if you never allow them. To Florida's credit, it's done a great job in that regard. Solid defensive play coupled with lights-out performances from Sergei Bobrovsky has resulted in opponents scoring only 1.71 goals per 60. That equates to a net of 0.44 per 60.

The problem for Florida is Vegas has done an even better job of keeping the puck out, allowing only 1.64 goals per 60. Vegas' net is 1.78 per 60 minutes, a significantly better margin than Florida's.

What I love about the Golden Knights is they've won more decisively and sustainably. Their expected goal share is better than 4% higher, and they've done a better job of preventing chances.

Adin Hill has been great, for sure, but they haven't asked as much of him as the Panthers have of Bobrovsky. Sooner or later, one would think the latter will slow down under such a difficult workload.

The Golden Knights are 6-3 at home these playoffs and have outscored opponents by 10 at full strength.

Look for them to flex their muscles in that area - and use home ice to their advantage - in a series-opening win.

Bet: Golden Knights (-130)

Jonathan Marchessault over 3.5 shots (+120)

Marchessault is the Golden Knights' top shooting weapon. He leads the team in shots on target, scoring chances, and expected goals through three rounds.

In some categories - such as chances, where Marchessault leads by 15 - the gap between Marchessault and the next closest teammate is rather significant.

I expect Marchessault to pick up where he left off in the opening game of this series. His line should get more advantageous matchups on home ice, with Mark Stone's unit taking on the toughest minutes.

It's also worth noting Marchessault skates on the top power play, and the Panthers are one of the more undisciplined teams in the league. He should get plenty of opportunities on the man advantage.

As a cherry on top, there's the revenge factor. The Panthers didn't protect Marchessault in the 2017 expansion draft, electing to send him and Reilly Smith to Vegas to protect others.

Now he can stick it to his old team and make them pay for that decision on the biggest stage.

Aleksander Barkov over 2.5 shots (-105)

Barkov is generally someone I prefer backing on home ice. However, he's worthy of an exception here.

If you remove Game 3 of the Hurricanes series - Barkov only played three minutes due to injury - he has gone over his total in six of the past nine playoff games. That's despite facing strong shot-suppression teams in the Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Hurricanes.

Believe it or not, the Golden Knights are the worst opponent he has faced in terms of preventing shots - at least during the regular season. They give up a healthy chunk of them to the center position, too.

Much like the Hurricanes, the Golden Knights are a team that can be exposed by powerful, talented opposing forwards who fight their way to the dirty areas of the ice. Barkov fits the bill, which is probably why he's mustered five shots on goal in three of the past four against Vegas.

Expect his shot-generating success to continue in Game 1.

Todd Cordell is a sports betting writer at theScore. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @ToddCordell.

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