Saturday's NHL Playoff Picks
Saturday is alright for hockey. The Nassau Coliseum will be rocking. Carolina looks to even their series against the Lightning on the road. Let’s dig into the two matchups.
Boston Leads 2-1
Many expected a somewhat one-sided series between the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders prior to the start of the second round. It hasn’t been the case outside of the series opener, as the teams have needed overtime to decide a winner in the last two contests.
After the teams combined for 14 goals in the first two goals, game three was the offensive struggle many expected prior to the series. Casey Cizikas won game two for the Isles in Boston, but Brad Marchand returned the favor in front of the Isles fans at the Nassau Coliseum in game three to give the Bruins a 2-1 win.
Boston has a 2-1 series lead, and it’s probably deserved. The Bruins dominated the Isles in game one, but the two teams have played nearly dead even games over the last two contests. In games two and three, the expected goal battle favored Boston, 4.6 to 4.35. The high danger chances were dead even, with both teams generating 16 each.
After dominating game one to the tune of a 91% expected goal rate, the Islanders have done a good job of controlling Boston’s top line in the last two contests. Barry Trotz has entrusted Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock and Jean-Gabriel Pageau to slow down the explosive line featuring Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Marchand, and they’ve done well thus far in limiting their zone time. The trio has less than one expected goal combined in the last two games.
For the Isles, things are beginning to look up for one main reason. After a slow start to the postseason, it appears Mathew Barzal has arrived. Barzal scored his first goal of the playoffs to tie the game late in the third period on Thursday, but even prior to that, he looked like a different player the past few games. Barzal has appeared dangerous every time he’s had the puck on his stick, and the numbers back that up as he’s posted nearly a 58% expected goal rate in this series.
It’s hard to accurately recap Semyon Varlamov’s game for the Isles in game three. Can a goaltender keep a team in the game while costing them the game at the same time? Varlamov did a tremendous job keeping Boston’s lead at just 1-0 all night, allowing Barzal to tie the game. However, Marchand’s overtime winning goal was the definition of a bleeder and needs to be stopped every single time. He did make 39 saves and held Boston to one goal during regulation, but his final act left a bad taste in the mouth of Isles fans.
In Boston’s crease, Tuukka Rask was brilliant at the start of overtime to give the Bruins a chance to win. He’s posted a 92.2% save percentage in this series. He’s posted a +1.2 goals saved above expectation in this series and quieted the critics who emerged after his average game two performance. It seems like almost every Islanders’ goal in this series has been the result of a screen, deflection or rebound. It’s been hard to beat Rask cleanly.
After a horrid showing in game one, the Isles have rebounded nicely over the past two games. They’ve played Boston very tough and the underlying metrics are nearly a dead heat. I truly believe these teams are closer to equal than the public perception leads one to believe. For that reason, I see value on the Isles as a home underdog in this contest.
Even if Boston was a significantly better team than the Isles, I don’t believe they should be consensus -150 favorites at the Nassau Coliseum. That implies the Bruins have a 60% chance of skating into the Old Barn and putting the Isles on the brink of elimination in front of 12,000 Islanders fans who have been drinking in the parking lot for nine hours. I don’t buy that after what we’ve seen the last two games of this series.
Bet: NY Islanders +130 (Click to bet)
Tampa Bay Leads 2-1
This series has perfectly captured the randomness and pain that hockey betting can be. The road team has won every game in this series. In addition, the team that likely deserved to win each game ended up losing.
The Carolina Hurricanes could very well be up two games to one in this series, but Andrei Vasilevskiy was insane between the pipes for the Lightning in games one and two. Tampa Bay came out with a much better effort in game two, but Vasilevskiy had a pedestrian night with Petr Mrazek having a big night for Carolina, and the Canes ended up winning the game.
Speaking of Petr Mrazek, that was a bold move by coach Rod Brind’Amour for the Hurricanes. Alex Nedeljkovic led the league in save percentage during the rookie season, was just recently named a nominee for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year, and gave up just four goals in the first two games of this series. Despite this, Brind’Amour tapped Mrazek on the back and he was the difference.
Mrazek entered the season as Carolina’s starting goalie and he had a very good performance in his appearances during the season. Unfortunately for him, he played just 12 of Carolina’s 56 games due to thumb surgery. Once Mrazek was healthy enough to return, Nedeljkovic had already taken over the job. Two good goalies is a luxury, and Carolina reaped the benefits of such luxury in game three.
On a more troubling note for Carolina, the injuries keep piling up. The team lost Nino Niederreiter prior to game one, Vincent Trocheck during game two and then lost Warren Foegele to injury during game three. Carolina is a team built on their depth, but that depth is being tested with three different injuries amongst their top three lines.
Their big names stepped up in a big way to get them back in the series on Thursday. Sebastian Aho had three points, Teuvo Teravainen had two assists and captain Jordan Staal scored the overtime winner. Carolina will need these three along with Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas to carry the load offensively.
After allowing 15 high danger chances combined in games one and two, the Hurricanes allowed Tampa to generate 15 in game three alone. Carolina had just 11 high danger chances combined through two games, but they had 10 alone in the last game. Is this the sign of a series that’s opening up?
Tampa Bay is far too large of a favorite to back in this spot in a series that has been relatively even. Backing Carolina to win both games on the road seems greedy. All three games have gone under the total. I think we’re finally due for an over on Saturday in game four. The plus-money price makes that my favorite option in this contest.
Bet: Over 5.5 Goals @ -110 (Click to bet)