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With two games on Thursday's NHL schedule, handicapper Pete Truszkowski gives us his pick for each

New York Islanders vs. Philadelphia Flyers

BET: Islanders Over 2.5 Goals @ +102

Is it possible for a team to inspire less confidence in a victory?

When your team goes up 3-0 in an NHL playoff game, you shouldn’t ever feel much risk of losing the game. You have to be able to close teams out and protect a lead.

Well, 15 minutes into Game Two, Philadelphia had a 3-0 lead over the Islanders. They needed overtime and a lucky bounce to end up securing the victory. There’s a lot of different vantage points to look at this game from.

First of all, did Philadelphia deserve to be up 3-0? No, probably not.

The first period was relatively even; the Isles actually 5 of the 7 high danger scoring chances according to Natural Stat Trick. What was the difference?

For the first time in this tournament, Isles goalie Semyon Varlamov was bad. He was caught cheating off his near post twice by Kevin Hayes. He showed a lack of lateral mobility on Sean Couturier’s goal that made it 3-0. Varlamov set an Islanders record for longest playoff shutout streak in the first minute of the game. By the end of the period, his game was over.

On the other hand, Carter Hart made some big saves to keep the Isles off the board.

Even though the scoreboard was starting to look like a blowout, the atmosphere and pace of the game never suggested the Islanders were about to come unhinged. And for good reason.

A lot of teams would quit when they fall behind big so early in a game. It’s easy to look ahead and just declare that today wasn’t your day. We’ll get them in Game Three tomorrow. It’s only one game. We’ll bounce back. Not these Islanders.

The Islanders scored three straight, including a Jean-Gabriel Pageau ripper that tied the game with just over two minutes to go. Unfortunately, in overtime, Philippe Myers’ point shot deflected off the stick of Anders Lee and in.

There were some positives for the Flyers of course. Their big guys are slowly starting to wake up. Sean Couturier finally scored his first goal of the postseason. Kevin Hayes added two goals, raising his total to three in the second season.

But the Islanders controlled play, even when you adjust the metrics for score effects. The Isles had over 53.4% of shot attempts, 65.4% of high danger chances and 61.2% of expected goals. This is similar to game One, where the Islanders simply played better than the Flyers.

In terms of goaltending, we’re on the second half of a back-to-back here. Semyon Varlamov was pulled by Isles coach Barry Trotz, so he should be the fresher goalie in this game. I expect him to get back in the crease despite a solid relief performance by Thomas Greiss. I would be shocked if the Flyers didn’t go with Carter Hart, who has been their MVP in this postseason.

The Islanders have scored seven goals in two games in this series. They have been the better team. Goalies usually perform worse in the second half of back-to-back games. I’m tempted to take the Islanders to win here, but I think I will go with their team total. They haven’t had much of an issue scoring in the bubble and I think they can go over 2.5 goals again on Thursday night.

Vancouver Canucks vs. Vegas Golden Knights

BET: Over 1.5 Goals in Period 1 @ -127

What’s one thing everyone wants to do? It’s get an advantage on the bookmaker.

NHL game totals are always between 5 goals and 6.5 goals. You will almost never see a 6.5 total in a playoff game, meaning 6 is basically as high as it gets. That’s the total for Game Three of Vancouver vs. Vegas.

While totals for games do change and fluctuate between the aforementioned numbers, a first period total is always 1.5 goals. No matter if the game total is 5 or 6, the first period total will stay the same. Therefore, there is a mathematical advantage to betting the over in the first period of a game with a higher total. If the game is expecting 6 goals, there’s a higher chance of two goals in the first period than if the game is expecting 5 goals.

Vegas is one of, if not the, most dominant teams in the NHL when it comes to puck possession and shot quality. No team has a higher expected goals per 60 minutes at 5v5 than the Vegas Golden Knights. The same can be said for high danger chances per 60 minutes. On the other end, no team remaining in the postseason allows a higher expected goals against number than the Vancouver Canucks. In addition, the same can be said for high danger chances against.

Vegas has the puck a lot. They generate high quality chances. Vancouver gives up a lot of high quality chances. These two factors should lead to Vegas getting their chances.

How will Vancouver get their chances? The team’s offense is at it’s best on the rush. Players like Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser are at their best when using their speed and hands to rush through the neutral zone and take advantage of the counter attack. In addition to the counter-attack, Vancouver has one of the best powerplays in the league. If the Canucks get an opportunity, they will put pressure on the penalty kill and have a good chance to score.

Robin Lehner has been Vegas’ starter through these playoffs, however he struggled in Game Two. This might cause Vegas to go to Marc-Andre Fleury in Game Three. Fleury has been the worse goalie of the two this season. If Vegas makes the change, it helps us in our quest for early goals.

I like the full game over in this contest, but I like to take advantage of the mathematical edge we have by betting on the first period over.


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