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NHL picks and analysis on Tuesday from expert handicapper Pete Truszkowski

Boston Bruins vs Tampa Bay Lightning Predictions

The Tampa Bay vs Boston series is arguably the two best teams in the league. Most expected this to be the Eastern Conference finals but we’re getting it a round earlier due to seeding changes caused by the return to play format.

What we saw in game one was Boston come out to a 3-0 lead before almost blowing the game to the Lightning. If the game was two minutes longer, I think there’s a good chance Tampa Bay would have forced overtime. It does seem like it took the Lightning a while to get their game going in the opener.

Despite the lopsided early score, the Lightning actually had more expected goals in game one than the Bruins even when you adjust for score effects. However, the Bruins took advantage of the man advantage and a big time mistake by Ryan McDonagh. This was enough for the Bruins in Game One.

I think series score effects are a real thing. I think that if a team goes up by a game, the trailing team plays with a higher sense of urgency in the next game. The whole world expects this series to be close based on the gambling lines, so it’s not a stretch to think that this series will be tied at a game a piece after two games.

The biggest advantage for Tampa in this series comes in net. Jaroslav Halak is a 35 year old who has been a very good backup goalie for Boston the past few years. Despite this, Halak hasn’t absorbed a true starting role since 2015. On the other hand, Andrei Vasilevskiy is a perennial Vezina trophy contender. At 26, he can handle the rigors of a series. I think Vasilevskiy is the better goalie and I don’t worry about him potentially fatiguing like I do with Halak.

These two teams don’t have a lot between them. Both can play tremendous defense. Both can score. Both have great powerplays. Both have solid goaltending. Tremendous depth. But with the Bruins taking game one, I’m taking the Lightning to even the series at a pick’em price. I think we’ll be getting a long, close, back and forth series and it starts by evening it in game two.

PICK: Tampa Bay ML (-109)

Vancouver Canucks vs Vegas Golden Knights Predictions

Holy….game one was one of the uglier, mismatched hockey games I’ve watched in months. Then again, I haven’t watched much hockey, or any sport, prior to this month. Jokes aside, Vancouver did not look like it belongs on the same ice surface as Vegas in Game One.

The final score of 5-0 is actually representative of what happened in this game. Vegas posted a 67.3% expected goal rate in the premier game of this series. What’s crazy is this isn’t that much higher than Vegas’ bubble average expected goal rate. Through eight games, Vegas has 63.6% of the expected goals in their games.

What this means is that Vegas will control games at even strength. You will look up and you will see the Golden Knights playing with the puck in the Vancouver end of the ice. It’s math.

Like I outlined prior to game one, the chance for Vancouver to steal games comes down to their goalie Jacob Markstrom continuing his insane performances into this round. In addition, Vancouver would need their elite talent like Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Quinn Hughes to take over a game. Neither happened in game one and we saw what happened.

At this point, fade Vegas at your own peril. Their defense doesn’t give up much. Their expected goals against per 60 minutes is 2nd best in these playoffs. Their goalie, Robin Lehner, has been one of the best goalies in hockey the past two seasons. Up front, they are deep and they play in the opponent’s zone.

You probably should blindly bet the underdog here. Vegas is up to a -230 favorite in some places which seems insane. You can get Vancouver up to +195 to win Game two. The line is overreacting to what we saw on Sunday.

However, I get it. After what we watched in game one, betting on Vancouver would feel like lighting your money on fire at this point. So we have to find a way to cut this juice, and it’s betting that Vegas can take care of the Canucks without needing overtime.

If you bet on Vegas to win in regulation, you only need to lay -130 in juice. It’s riskier, but it’s a lot easier to stomach than laying -230.

PICK: Vegas to win in regulation (-130)


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