This could potentially be a very fun series to watch in the Atlantic Division between the #2 seed Toronto Maple Leafs and the #3 seed Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Leafs come into the playoffs with a 54-21-7 record, winning their last three games going to finish the regular season to finish in second place in the Atlantic Division. They played really well in the closing stretch of the year, going 14-2-2 in their last 18 games. Toronto’s offense has been incredible this season, scoring a second most in the NHL average of 3.8 goals per game. They generated the seventh most shots in hockey, an average of 34.6 per game and they’ve converted on those shots with a fourth most in the NHL shooting percentage of 11%. The Leafs have the deadliest powerplay in the league, scoring on 27.3% of those chances. Auston Matthews lead the NHL with a very impressive 60 goals during the regular season. Where the Leafs have struggled is defensively. On the season, they have allowed an average of 3.07 goals per game, 13th most in the NHL. Jack Campbell started off the season pretty hot in goal and was one of the best goalies in the league for October and November but the Leafs goaltending situation came crashing down in the second half of the season with injuries and just poor play. For a stretch, from January 1st on, Toronto got statistically the worst goaltending in the NHL from Campbell, Petr Mrazek and rookie Erik Kallgren. Jack Campbell will likely get the start in goal tonight and on the season he has a 2.64 GAA, .914 save percentage and five shutouts. Not spectacular by any means. To make that look even worse, the Leafs defense prevented a good amount of shots, allowing a ninth fewest in the NHL average of 30.6 shots per game but still allowing a ton of goals on those shots. The Leafs have been pretty good on the penalty kill, eighth best in the NHL, killing off 82.1% of their penalties and they lead the NHL with 13 short handed goals this year.
The Lightning are looking to become the first team to win three straight Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders won their four in a row from 1980-1983. The extended length of going through four series two years in a row takes its toll on a team which is why I don’t see the Bolts getting it done for a third year in a row. Plus they were way over the salary cap and kept their best players Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos on long term IR for all of last season before activating them for the playoffs. Essentially a legal cheat code that was a key factor in that second Cup win.
The Bolts have had a solid season this year, ending in third place in the Atlantic Division for the regular season with a 41-23-8 record. They had a great stretch to close the regular season, winning seven of their last nine games, many of them in blowouts. They scored an average of 5.66 goals per game in their last six games of the regular season. Tampa’s offense took a slight step back this season after the last two years, but they still were very good, averaging 3.48 goals per game, seventh most in the NHL. They were very efficient in their shooting, generating an average of 29.8 shots per game but having a third best in the NHL 11.2% shooting percentage. The Bolts power play, scoring on 23.9% of those opportunities, eighth most in the NHL. Defensively Tampa has been very good this season as well. They’ve allowed a sixth fewest in the NHL average of 2.78 goals per game and a seventh fewest average of 29.8 shots per game. Andrei Vasilevskiy’s one of the best goalies in the NHL and has a 2.49 GAA and .916 save percentage. The Bolts were one of the most penalized teams in hockey this season with the second most penalty minutes in the NHL but their penalty kill was good, ranking eleventh in the NHL, killing off 80.6% of those penalties and scoring seven shorthanded goals.
These two Atlantic Division teams played four times this season and split those games. The first time they played in Toronto on November 4th was a tight, low scoring game with the Leafs winning 2-1 in overtime. The next time they met in Toronto on December 9th, the Lightning won 5-3 on the road. The Leafs got their revenge with a 6-2 win in Tampa on March 4th and then the Lightning closed out the regular season series on March 21st with a dominant 8-1 victory at home.
Goaltending should make the biggest difference in this series. The matchup of Vasilevskiy vs. Jack Campbell gives the Lightning an overwhelming edge in that. The Leafs are also the biggest choke artists in the NHL. Every year their regular season seems to be fantastic and then they get bounced in the first round, including last year where they blew a 3-1 lead to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, who came back to beat them in seven games. I think this ends up being a very fun series to watch that likely goes to six or seven games, but I do expect another first round exit from the playoffs for the Leafs that will likely end up seeing the whole Toronto franchise get blown up with GM Kyle Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe getting fired this offseason. I’ll take the Lightning to win the series and the series to go over 5.5 games for 2 units each.
As I typically do when I have a series bet on a team, I expect that team to win Game 1 of the series. For tonight’s Game 1, I’ll take the Lightning ML and Lightning TT over 3 for a unit each. I also like the over, expecting scoring from both teams and will take the over 6 for a 1.5 units.
I don’t see either of these teams winning the Cup or really even winning the Eastern Conference, so I’m not adding any futures for these teams.
2u Lightning (-107)
2u Lightning/Maple Leafs over 5.5 games (-162)
Game 1 Bets
1.5u Lightning/Maple Leafs over 6.5 (-139)
1u Lightning ML (+110)
1u Lightning TT over 3 (-117)
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