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Sunday marks the begining of the Lightning vs. Hurricanes series and Pete Truszkowski is back with his pick for the game

NHL Playoff Predictions

Two more second round series get underway on Sunday across the National Hockey League. The Carolina Hurricanes will host the defending Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in game one while the Presidents Trophy winning Colorado Avalanche will welcome in the Vegas Golden Knights.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Series Tied 0-0

Both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes are coming off six game series wins in the first round, but neither side looked to be totally at their best during the series. Carolina eliminated Nashville, but the series saw four games go to overtime in what was a closer series than many projected. The Lightning discarded the Florida Panthers, but poor goaltending sunk the Panthers in a series that they were arguably the better team in.

Nevertheless, these were two elite teams during the regular season and many projected them to face-off in the second round of the Central Division playoffs. Tampa Bay’s reputation is well known and earned, as they are the defending Stanley Cup champions and have been an elite team in the league for the past few seasons. On the other hand, Carolina has been a team that has improved every year over the past few and now find themselves amongst the best teams in the league. However, they will need to achieve more playoff success to cement themselves amongst the elites.

There’s not much separating these teams and we should be in for a great series. Some might be surprised to see the Hurricanes as the higher seeded team with home-ice advantage, but the margins were razor thin. All data is from NaturalStatTrick.com

StatCarolinaTampa Bay
Regular Season Point Percentage.714.670
Goal Differential+43+34
Shot Attempt Share54.95%53.18%
5-on-5 Goals Scored/60 minutes2.322.53
5-on-5 Goals Against/60 minutes1.772.2
5-on-5 Expected Goals Scored/602.612.29
5-on-5 Expected Goals Against/602.191.95
Expected Goal Rate54.36%54.04%
High Danger Chances Created/6012.1410.42
High Danger Chances Allowed/6010.099.34
High Danger Chance Percentage54.61%52.74%
Starting Goaltender GSAx+9.6+18.2
Starting Goaltender Save Percentage.932.925
Leading ScorerAho (57)Point (48)

It should come as no surprise that during the eight game season series, both teams won four games a piece. There’s a lot of similarities between these teams: both have gotten great goaltending, both have solid defensive units led by true Norris-level defensemen in Victor Hedman and Dougie Hamilton, both have electric elite talent and both forward groups are deep.

They key to game one and this whole series will be whether Alex Nedeljkovic will be able to match up with Andrei Vasilevskiy. Nedeljkovic opened the season as Carolina’s third string goaltender, but an injury to Petr Mrazek and unimpressive play from James Reimer opened the door for the youngster to become the team’s number one netminder. He led all goaltenders in save percentage during the regular season. He was decidedly average in the first round of the playoffs, posting a goals saved above expectation of -0.02.

These teams are very evenly matched up and down their rosters. The X-factor in this series will be whether the young and unproven Hurricanes goaltender can rise to the occasion. At this point, with this game near a pick’em, I’d have to lean towards backing Vasilevskiy who has proven to be arguably the best goaltender in the league over the course of many seasons.

Bet: Tampa Bay Lightning ML @ -105


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