Wednesday's NHL Playoff Picks
There’s just six teams remaining in the quest to win the Stanley Cup. After Wednesday night, it might be down to five.
The Boston Bruins head to Long Island looking to keep their season alive while the New York Islanders look to punch their ticket to the NHL’s Final Four in front of their home crowd.
New York Leads 3-2
The New York Islanders entered their second round series against the Boston Bruins as significant underdogs. The pre-series line had the Bruins as -235 favorites to advance to the NHL’s semi-finals. New York has yet to be favored to win a game in this series. Despite all of this, it’s the Islanders who have a 3-2 series lead as the series heads back to Long Island for Game Six.
The New York Islanders won game five in Boston, but it was not one of their better performances. Boston’s 70.3% expected goal rate at 5-on-5 and their 44-19 advantage in shots had many leaving that game saying the Bruins deserved the win.
However, despite Boston consistently playing in the Isles’ zone on Monday night, the Isles held the Bruins to just six high danger chances at even strength. The Isles are willing to check and defend all night as long as they do a good job of limiting the quality of their opponent’s chances. They’d rather give up 40 low danger chances than 5 high danger chances.
One of the main reasons the Isles were able to escape Boston with a win was their powerplay. Mat Barzal, Kyle Palmieri and Jordan Eberle all scored powerplay goals for the Isles, who went 3 for 4 on the man-advantage.
This prompted Bruins’ coach Bruce Cassidy to go on a post game rant where he decided to call the Isles the “New York Saints.” Sour grapes? Gamesmanship? Rattled? We’ll see, I guess.
Another storyline coming out of Game Four is the goaltending situation. Semyon Varlamov did enough for the Isles, making 40 saves in the victory. He’ll almost certainly be in net over Ilya Sorokin for the Isles after winning three of four games in this series. However, the real drama comes in Boston’s crease.
Tuukka Rask was beaten four times on 16 shots through two periods on Monday. While it was hard to blame Rask on any of the goals on the surface, it was obvious he wasn’t his usual sharp self. Many onlookers were shocked to see rookie goaltender Jeremy Swayman in Boston’s net for the third period.
After the game, Cassidy admitted that Rask wasn’t nearly 100% and he needed some time for maintenance. He also said he assumed Rask would be ready for game six but did not outright commit to starting him if healthy. Is he hurt? Was the benching performance based? Is there really a chance Boston will go with the rookie Swayman with their season on the line?
With the series heading back to Long Island for game six, it’s a good opportunity to examine some home/road splits in this series. It’s been especially interesting when examining Boston’s “Perfection Line” featuring Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. In the three games in Boston, they’ve played to a 70% expected goal (xG) rate. In the two games on Long Island, they’ve been held in check to the tune of a 36% xG rate.
When in Boston, Cassidy has decided to match Bergeron’s line up against Brock Nelson. Bergeron has dominated the Isles’ second line center throughout the series in terms of puck possession and shot generation. By exploiting that matchup, not only is Boston generating offense, but they’re slowing down arguably New York’s best offensive line.
However, on Long Island where Barry Trotz is in control, Bergeron has seen a lot of Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Pageau is a pesky responsible two-way center who plays with energy. He’s done a tremendous job against Bergeron. Veterans Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac assist in playing a hard, responsible game.
Also noteworthy has been the difference in style we’ve seen in this series depending on where the game is played. In Boston, the three games have seen the teams combine for 23 goals. However, on Long Island, we’ve seen just eight goals in the two games there. Two of those goals were empty net insurance goals for the Isles in game four. For all intents and purposes, it was a pair of 2-1 games.
I don’t think this is coincidental. Barry Trotz is one of the better coaches in the league and he’s particularly known for his teams’ ability to defend. At home, he has all the advantages and he can get his team to play the style he wants them to play.
Couple that with the pressure of an elimination game for Boston, and I think we see a low-scoring, tight, pressure filled game. Two goals might be enough to win this one if things go the way Trotz wants them to.
Bet: Under 5.5 Goals @ -145 (Click to bet)