NHL Playoff Picks - Saturday, May 22 Predictions
We’re getting down to business as most series are getting down to business. On Saturday’s slate, we have three critical game fours and then a pivotal game two for the psyche of all of Toronto.
Pittsburgh Leads 2-1
The New York Islanders played their best game of the playoffs in Game Three against the Penguins. They posted a 57.5% expected goal rate while generating more high danger chances than the Penguins. Unfortunately for the Isles, for one of the rare times this season, they lost the goaltending battle.
Entering this series, we outlined how New York should have a substantial goaltending advantage over the Penguins. It’s not totally shocking that Tristan Jarry has been shaky at best in two of the three games thus far. During the regular season, he posted a -11.8 goals saved above expectation (GSAx).
On the other hand, Semyon Varlamov posted a +2.7 GSAx mark with a .929 save percentage, which was the best mark in the league amongst goalies that started at least 30 games. After missing game one due to injury, Varlamov has started both games two and three by allowing soft goals within the game’s first four minutes. He rebounded in game two, but was not able to do the same in game three. After allowing five goals on just 27 shots, the feeling in New York is that coach Barry Trotz will turn the crease back over to Ilya Sorokin.
Sorokin was very solid in his rookie season, posting a +2.5 GSAx with a .918 save percentage. He stopped 39 of 42 Penguins attempts in the opener of this series, which is the Isles’ lone win to this point.
This series has been relatively even as all three games have been one goal games. Pittsburgh has the slight advantage in terms of puck possession and shot quality, but it’s negligible. Once New York increased their physical play in game three, they were able to take over the flow of the game. New York is the grittier and bigger team, and Pittsburgh has at times struggled with this style of hockey over the past decade.
With New York likely making a goaltending change, and playing a huge game in front of their home crowd, I like them here in this pick’em spot. This series has been evenly matched and it’s only fitting it goes back to Pittsburgh tied.
Pick: NY Islanders ML @ -108
Tampa Bay Leads 2-1
Game three between the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning is likely the game of the postseason so far. The Panthers came out on fire after dropping the first two games at home. However, their 2-0 first period lead was short lived.
The Lightning scored five in the second period and had a 5-3 lead entering the final stanza. At this point, it would have been understandable if the Panthers completely folded. However, the opposite happened as they tied the game in the third and then won it in overtime.
Many wrote the Panthers off after they dropped the first two games of this series at home. However, if you look at the underlying metrics, you’d realize the Panthers are very much in this series and could just as easily be the team with the advantage.
Through three games in this series, the Florida Panthers have actually won the expected goal battle in every game. They possess a 7.2 to 4.9 expected goals advantage through three games. Additionally, Florida has generated 29 high danger chances compared to 18 for the Lightning. Game three was Florida’s best performance to date, as they won the expected goal battle 2.76 to 1.57 (63.9%).
The Tampa Bay Lightning have 13 goals in the playoffs but only six of those have come at 5-on-5. The Panthers should consider staying out of the penalty box, as the Lightning powerplay is hitting at a 50 percent clip. Nikita Kucherov has four of his five points on the man advantage.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, their biggest question mark is still a huge question mark as we head into game four. Sergei Bobrovsky started the series, but gave up five goals in game one. He was replaced by Chris Driedger who lost a low-scoring affair in game two. Driedger got the call again in game three, but was replaced by Bobrovsky in the third period after getting beat five times through the first two. Bobrovsky will likely get the start again in game four after earning the win in relief, but as we know, his tenure in South Florida has been extremely disappointing.
The Panthers were the better team during the regular season and have at worst matched the Lightning all series long. Their top three lines are all playing to an expected goal rate of 55% or better. Two of them are at over 68%. If Florida can get competent goaltending from Bobrovsky, I don’t see much between these teams at all.
Pick: Florida ML @ +124
Montreal Leads 1-0
First of all, I’d like to start off this preview by wishing all the best to John Tavares. His injury was one of the scarier things I’ve seen happen on the ice in my time as a hockey fan. Thankfully, it looks like he’ll be okay in terms of being able to live a normal life and eventually return to hockey which was the main concern when we saw what unfolded.
With that being said, the Maple Leafs are now without their captain and one of the league’s elite talents. Tavares put up 50 points in 56 games this season and is an integral part of Toronto’s top six.
To make matters worse, Toronto dropped the opening game of this series as substantial favorites. It was a very low-event game, with both teams being held to less than 1.5 expected goals at even strength. The two teams combined for just 11 high danger chances. This style definitely benefits the less skilled Montreal Canadiens.
When previewing game one of this series, I wrote that Carey Price was once arguably the best goalie in the world but he hasn’t played at that level in recent seasons. Well, in game one of this series, he entered his time machine. Price stopped 35 of 36 Leaf shots, including a spectacular save on Mitch Marner mere seconds before the eventual game winning goal. Jack Campbell made his first career playoff start for the Maple Leafs, and he deserved a better fate as he stopped 30 of 32 shots from Montreal.
Entering this series, I expected this to be a high-scoring series. However, I might have been wrong in that expectation. Both teams did a great job defending in the series opener. Both goalies played well. Now, Toronto is dealing with an injury to one of their stars and needs to shake up their lineup. For that reason, my favorite play in this game is the under.
Bet: Under 5.5 goals @ -105
Vegas Leads 2-1
Game three highlighted the difference in experience between these teams. Minnesota stormed out to an early 2-0 lead in the first period in front of their home crowd, and looked to be up 3-0 before an offside challenge took a goal off the board.
However, instead of panicking, the Vegas Golden Knights scored five straight to win the game in impressive come from behind fashion.
I don’t take much out of this game, as the Wild obviously tried to sit on their lead and learned very quickly that it doesn't work in this league at playoff time. By the time the Golden Knights were back in the game, the Wild could never find their legs again.
I am positive they won’t make this mistake again should the opportunity arise.
Entering this series, I thought these teams were much more even than most. Vegas is better offensively, but Minnesota is better defensively. Fleury is probably better than Talbot in goal, but Minnesota does a good job of making Talbot’s job easy.
Minnesota is allowing just over 7 high danger chances per game in these playoffs. That’s even better than their performance during the regular season, which is impressive considering they led the league in limiting high danger chances.
This series has been even throughout, so I like the Wild to even this series on home-ice as an underdog.
Bet: Minnesota ML +108