The fourth day of the NHL playoffs has already arrived and we have three Game 2’s on the docket. Will the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning and Minnesota Wild be able to take commanding series leads? Or will the Pittsburgh Penguins, Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights be able to exact revenge?
New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins Predictions
Islanders Lead 1-0
Coming into these playoffs, there might not have been a team with more question marks than the New York Islanders. The Isles spent the first two-thirds of the season near the top of the league standings. Additionally, they were a top-five team in terms of expected goal rate, suggesting their success was well-deserved.
During the regular season, they won just 10 of their last 20 games. Those results were also deserved, as New York has played to just a 49.4% expected goal rate in that span. The Isles spent the first two-thirds of the season at the very top of the league in terms of defensive metrics, but over the last month-and-a-half they sat in the bottom third of the league.
The question was whether New York would be able to flip the switch for the playoffs. New York came out with a 4-3 overtime win in Game One, but they were likely to escape with that result. Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry gave up four goals and it could be argued that all four should have been stopped. The Penguins also had an expected goal rate of 59.7% but couldn’t come out with the win.
Thankfully for New York, they have arguably the best coach in the league in Barry Trotz. He has won two straight playoff series against Penguins coach Mike Sullivan and I expect him to be able to make adjustments for his team. Trotz’s team's bread and butter is usually their defense, and the Isles made a few glaring defensive mistakes in the opener.
A Nick Leddy turnover and Scott Mayfield not stepping up resulted in two different Penguins goals. Based on New York’s defensive success during the regular season, I expect this to be addressed and fixed. The Islanders ranked 2nd in goals against per game and 3rd in expected goals against.
On the flipside, things couldn’t possibly be worse for Jarry in the Penguins’ net. The Islanders ranked in the bottom third of the league in terms of goals scored per game during the regular season so as long as Jarry rebounds in Game Two, their offense can be kept at bay.
While the game finished with a score of 4-3, the game was tied at 2 with just over four minutes left. If you had an under ticket in Game One, you must feel like you were on the right side of the bet but got unlucky. Based on the Isles’ style, I think they’ll tighten things up even more in Game Two. Therefore, I’d look towards the under.
Islanders vs. Penguins Prediction: Under 5.5 Goals
Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Predictions
Lightning Lead 1-0
Coming into these playoffs, there was a lot of excitement about the Battle of the Sunshine State. The Tampa Bay Lightning enter as defending Stanley Cup champions, but they will face stiff competition in the first round from their inner-state foes. In fact, the Florida Panthers finished higher in the standings and had home ice advantage in the series.
Game One met and even surpassed all expectations as the Lightning won a back-and-forth contest by a score of 5-4. Brayden Point scored on a breakaway with 1:14 left in the contest to give the Bolts the win in the opener.
First and foremost, we learned the Florida Panthers can definitely play with the defending champions. Florida had the advantage in record as well as most underlying metrics during the regular season, but it’s nice to see first hand that they are not intimidated or overmatched.
Florida actually outscored the Lightning by a score of 3-1 at even strength in this game. Unfortunately for the Panthers, the Lightning scored three goals on the man advantage. Additionally, the Bolts added a shorthanded goal mere seconds after the Panthers had a somewhat controversial goal of their own waved off. With that being said, the Panthers playing to a 55.1% expected goal rate in the opener is a positive.
Unfortunately for Florida, two other question marks entering the series were answered.
Nikita Kucherov missed the whole regular season. He made his debut in Game One. In case you were wondering if he’d need a few games to get up to speed, wonder no more. Kucherov had two goals and added an assist. His line with Point and Ondrej Palat played to an expected goal rate of nearly 60%.
The biggest discrepancy entering this series was likely the goaltending. Andrei Vasilevskiy finished second in the league with a goals saved above expectation (GSAx) mark of +18.2. On the other side, the Panthers decided to go with Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes. Bobrovsky posted a GSAx of -8.1 during the season. There were a lot of goals on both sides in the opener, but Panthers fans are a lot less certain in their goaltender rebounding than fans of the Lightning.
Despite this, I do think these teams are evenly matched. The Lightning are favorites likely due to pedigree, but on paper there’s not much separating these teams. I expect a long series here, and in order for that to happen, the Panthers can’t go down 2-0 on home ice. Therefore, I’d back them as a home underdog here to even the series.
Panthers vs. Lighning Prediction: Florida ML +110
Minnesota Wild vs. Vegas Golden Knights Predictions
Wild Lead 1-0
The Minnesota Wild and Vegas Golden Knights needed overtime to find a goal on Sunday after playing 60 minutes of scoreless hockey. While we won’t see 1-0 games all series long, I do think goal scoring will be at somewhat of a premium in this series.
The most eye popping number from Sunday’s game is Cam Talbot’s 42 save shutout. Talbot was particularly strong in the first period as he turned aside all 19 shots from the Golden Knights. However, when it comes to 42 save shutouts, this was about as easy as they come.
The Wild have made a habit of limiting the quality of their opponents chances this season without much concern for the quantity. Vegas outshot them 42-30 and out-attempted them 62-41. Despite this, the scoring chances were just 22-21 and the high danger chances were even at nine. Minnesota had the third highest expected save percentage during the regular season, which means they often make life easy on their netminder. Talbot is more than capable enough to thrive in this environment.
While it wasn’t an issue this past season, over the past few years the Vegas Golden Knights have been the victims of a low shooting percentage. A part of this could be chalked up to bad luck, but it also could be the result of a lack of high-end elite talent. Max Pacioretty missed game one and he’s a game-time-decision for game two. Pacioretty is Vegas’ best pure scorer on a team that doesn’t have many. Game One had to give the Knights flashbacks to their run in the bubble last season in terms of not being able to bury the puck.
A big story for the Golden Knights this season has been the resurgence of Marc-Andre Fleury. After losing his job last season, Fleury got a chance this season due to Robin Lehner’s injury and he’s taken full advantage. Fleury ranked third in the league with a goals saved above expectation mark of +17.9.
When you look at Fleury’s season combined with Minnesota’s defensive prowess, it’s not surprising to see such a low scoring game one. I expect to see the Wild continue to allow the Golden Knights to play with the puck but limiting the quality of their chances. For that reason, I expect another low scoring affair in Game Two.