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Picks and predictions for Saturday's NHL slate from our expert handicapper

The NHL returns to action on Saturday after two days of no action. The players rightfully used their voices to protest the games originally scheduled for Thursday and Friday. While the action occurring on the ice might seem secondary in terms of importance, it won’t stop us from betting the action.

Three games on Saturday is just what we need to get back in the swing of things.

Boston Bruins vs Tampa Bay Lightning

I’m sure they wish it came under different circumstances, but I think the new schedule favors the Boston Bruins more than any other team.

This series was billed as the two alphas of the Eastern Conference going head-to-head. The first two games were exactly that. In game one, the Bruins staved off a comeback attempt from the Lightning to win 3-2. Tampa evened the series in game two thanks to a Ondrej Palat overtime goal.

Game three was a completely different animal. Jaroslav Halak couldn’t make a save. The Bruins couldn’t kill a penalty. Tampa couldn’t stop scoring. Boston couldn’t get possession of the puck. The final result? 7-1 Tampa Bay to take a 2-1 series lead.

What went wrong? Well, we opined that Boston might have a goalie issue in back-to-back games. Jaroslav Halak is normally a back-up goalie who recently was forced into a starting role for the first time since 2014. He’s also 35 years of age. Boston’s backup goalie, Daniel Vladar, made his NHL debut in game three and struggled.

Obviously, Tampa Bay dominated that game aside from the goaltending to the tune of 61.6% expected goals when adjusted for score effects. However, based on everything we’ve seen from these teams all season long, including the first two games of this series, this sure appeared to be an outlier.

The extended break should muffle any momentum the Lightning could have gained from Game Three. It should give Jaroslav Halak an opportunity to get some rest and return to the Bruins’ crease fresh.

The 12 noon start should also benefit Boston. Noon games are notorious for being slower paced and more of a struggle offensively. Boston benefits from this type of game. Tampa is more of a faster, run and gun team. If the start time helps anyone here, it’s the older, slower, more defensively minded Bruins team.

I think we should expect a long series here. Boston is in a prime position here to bounce back and tie the series up.

The pick: Boston Bruins (+100)

New York Islanders vs Philadelphia Flyers

Game Two of this series was a rollercoaster for both sides, and it’s hard to tell which side benefits more from the increased break in between games.

Philadelphia won the game in overtime to even the series. They must have the momentum, right?

Not so fast.

The Islanders were behind in Game Two by a score of 3-0 midway through the game. They tied the game late on a goal from Jean-Gabriel Pageau with just over two minutes to go.

So do the Islanders gain any momentum from their incredible comeback, even though they lost the game?

I think with the increased break, the momentum of the win wears off from Philadelphia and the bigger picture starts to shine through. There’s some serious issues with their game right now.

The Isles can take a step back and look at things from a more macro level. They’ve been the better team in this series and continue to play tremendous hockey in the bubble.

There were some positives for the Flyers of course in Game Two. Their top players 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. In general, it’s good for the Flyers that they finally managed to get to Isles goalie Semyon Varlamov.

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.

If Philadelphia doesn’t improve their quality of play, their only hope in this series and this game will be that goaltender Carter Hart steals games. Betting on your goalie to steal you a game isn’t something I’d ever recommend.

The Islanders continue to become bigger favorites as time goes on in this series. They were slight underdogs in Game One. Game Two was basically a pick’em. Game Three has the Isles as slight favorites. The oddsmakers and bettors are obviously preferring the Isles here, and the numbers back it up.

The pick: NY Islanders (-114)

Vancouver Canucks vs Vegas Golden Knights

What’s one thing everyone wants to do? It’s to 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.

The Vegas Golden Knights are 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.

During the regular season, these two teams were top five in terms of cashing first period overs. 45 of 70 Vegas games went over 1.5 goals in the first period, good for 64.3%. No team hit at a higher clip. Vancouver wasn’t too shabby themselves, with 40 of their 68 games (58.8%) producing high scoring first periods.

You can bet the full game over, but I like isolating the value on the first period over. I advocated for this same bet prior to the original scheduled game that was supposed to take place on Thursday. The line has moved from -127 to -154 in some places. Positive line movement is a good sign here. If you shop, you can still find value. I like this play at any price under -145.

The Bet: Over 1.5 Goals in 1st Period (-134)

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