This series has been set for quite a long time in the Atlantic Division as the #2 seed Toronto Maple Leafs and the #3 seed Tampa Bay Lightning in a rematch of last year’s fantastic first round series where the Bolts won in seven games. The Leafs were the better team between these teams this year, going 2-0-1 against Tampa this year, losing 4-3 in overtime in Tampa on December 3rd, answering back with a 4-1 win at home on December 20th, and then winning 4-3 just a week ago on April 11th on the road.
The Maple Leafs have been fantastic the entire season, finishing the regular season in second place in the Atlantic Division behind the Bruins with a 50-21-11 record. They finished the regular season hot, on a four game win streak and a six game point streak, picking up a point in nine of their last ten games. The problem for Toronto is that they’ve been notorious for choking in the playoffs and have not gotten out of the first round since 2004.
Toronto’s been very good on both ends of the ice this year. They’ve scored an average of 3.39 goals per game, the ninth-most in the NHL, on an average of 32 shots per game. They’ve generated the eighth-most expected goals (3.46 per game) and the fourth-most high-danger shots in the league. The Leafs power play is the second-best in the NHL behind the Oilers, scoring on 26% of their opportunities. Mitch Marner (99 points, 69 assists, William Nylander (40 goals), and Auston Matthews (40 goals) led them in scoring this season. They bolstered their roster even more before the trade deadline acquiring Noel Acciari, Ryan O’Reilly, and Jake McCabe.
The Maple Leafs have been just as good defensively. They’ve allowed the sixth-fewest goals in the NHL, an average of 2.67 goals per game on an average of 29.5 shots allowed per game. They’ve given up the ninth-fewest expected goals (2.94 per game) and the twelfth-fewest high-danger shots. Toronto has killed off 81.9% of their penalties. Ilya Samsonov, acquired from Washington in the offseason, has been good in goal for the Leafs this season with a 27-10-5 record, a 2.33 GAA, a .919 save percentage, and four shutouts.
The three-time defending Eastern Conference Champions, Tampa Bay Lightning who won two Stanley Cups in the last three years have definitely taken a step back this year, finishing the regular season in third place in the Atlantic Division with a 46-30-6 record. That’s to be expected with the long grind of the playoffs and that the core of this team has played that many extra games, essentially playing essentially an extra entire season over the last three years. Although the Bolts ended the regular season with a 5-0 shutout win at home against the Red Wings, Tampa was in a huge slump in the second half of the season, with just nine wins in their last 24 games.
Tampa’s offense has been very good offensively once again this season. They’ve scored the seventh-most goals in the NHL this season, averaging 3.41 goals per game on an average of 32 shots per game. They’ve generated the seventh-most expected goals (3.54 per game) and the ninth-most high-danger shots in the league. The Bolts have been very good on the power play, scoring on 25.4% of their opportunities, the third-best in the NHL. Nikita Kucherov (113 points, 83 assists) and Brayden Point (51 goals) led them in scoring this season.
The Lightning haven’t been as good defensively and took a clear step back from the last few years. They’ve allowed an average of 3.07 goals per game, the 14th-fewest in the NHL, on an average of 31.5 shots allowed per game. They’ve given up the 13th-most expected goals (3.26 per game) and the twelfth-most high-danger shots. The Bolts have killed off 79.7% of their penalties. Andrei Vasilevskiy hasn’t been nearly as good this year in goal as he was when this team got such incredible goaltending from him on their way to winning their Cups. This season he has a 34-22-4 record, a 2.65 GAA, a .915 save percentage, and four shutouts. As we know from the last few years though, this guy has the talent to pick it up and be the best goaltender in the NHL.
If the Leafs don’t finally advance out of the first round this year, I don’t know when they ever will. They finished the regular season 23 points ahead of the Lightning. If they don’t get out of this series, this era for Toronto will be over. Kyle Dubas and Sheldon Keefe will both get fired, Auston Matthews is gone, and the roster will likely be re-worked. I expect them to finally do so and win this series, and I’ll take the Leafs to win it for 2 units. I think they do so in six or seven games and I’ll take the series to go over 5.5 games for a unit.
I don’t see either of these teams winning the Cup or even the Eastern Conference. The Bruins will beat whoever comes out of this matchup in the second round, so I’m not adding any futures on either of these teams.
In Game 1, expecting the Leafs to win the series, I like them to open the series with a win at home and will take them for a unit. I also like the overs in this series, expecting each game to be high scoring and will start the series off with a unit on the alternate over 5.5.
2u Maple Leafs to win series (-177)
1u Maple Leafs/Lightning over 5.5 games (-162)
Game 1 Bets
1u Maple Leafs ML (-157)
1u Maple Leafs/Lightning over 5.5 (-136)
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