VSiN’s hockey analyst takes a look at a couple of first-round NHL series that will get underway on Sunday.
Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Of all the teams in the playoffs, the Lightning might have the biggest range of possibilities. They were still a top-10 team in just about every statistical category this season, but there was definitely something missing. Oh, I remember. Nikita Kucherov didn’t play a single regular-season game, and Steven Stamkos played just 38. Both players are scheduled to return to the lineup in time for the series opener against the Panthers. It will be a whole different look, which Florida hasn’t seen this season.
The big question, in my opinion, is whether Tampa Bay will be able to hit the ground running after not really playing all that well down the stretch. Reinserting two players of that caliber into the lineup surely will help their chances, but this is not a particularly good matchup for the Lightning.
Florida finished the season 5-3 straight up against the Lightning, and Tampa Bay owned approximately 45 percent of the expected goals and 46 percent of the shot attempts. The Panthers are a very good hockey team.
Panthers coach Joel Quenneville, however, is doing the Lightning a favor by starting goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in Game 1 over Chris Driedger. Bobrovsky posted a .906 save percentage while Driedger finished with a .927 mark. If Bobrovsky is indeed going to be the starter for the Panthers in this series, the Lightning’s chances of winning increase significantly.
The current series odds at DraftKings sit at -152, which implies that the Lightning will win about 60 percent of the time. That number makes sense with Driedger in goal, but it doesn’t with Bobrovsky manning the crease. Bet the Lightning to win the series.
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Minnesota Wild
Bettors really shouldn’t question which is the better team in this matchup. The Golden Knights are an elite team, both offensively and defensively, and the Wild are not. The Golden Knights are a top-five team in categories such as goal, shot attempt and expected goal differential according to Evolving Hockey. The Wild finished with the 11th-best expected goal differential but rarely held any kind of territorial advantage. There’s a clear matchup advantage here, however, with the Wild winning five out of eight regular-season meetings. They also owned approximately 52 percent of the expected goals.
At BetMGM in New Jersey, the Golden Knights are rightfully listed as the series favorite, though their -238 price tag is significantly higher than my projected series price of -150. The Wild’s overall body of work pales in comparison to that of the Golden Knights, but their chance of winning the series is closer to 40 percent, which translates to odds of +150. At +200, there appears to be a whole lot of value betting the Wild to win the series far more often than their implied chance of roughly 33 percent suggests. Be aware that though there’s value on the Wild, they are still a long-shot bet to win the series.