Let’s check in on three first-round Stanley Cup playoff series that stand 3-2, with Game 6 in all cases scheduled for Wednesday night.
(3) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (2) Florida Panthers
In his NHL playoff debut, goaltender Spencer Knight came away with the win in Game 5, giving the Panthers new life. They’re still on the ropes, down 3-2, as the series returns to Tampa Bay, though. Winning the next two against the Lightning isn’t impossible, but it is unlikely. Outside of the most recent game, in which the Panthers spent much more time on the man advantage than the Lightning, the teams have had equal time on the power play, and that type of game definitely favors the defending champs. If penalty rates revert to where they were in the first four games, the Panthers are going to need a miracle to stay alive.
If there’s a silver lining for the Panthers it’s that they have been the better team overall. At five-on-five, the Panthers have held a slight territorial advantage, owning 53 percent of the shot attempts and expected goals. In all situations, the Panthers have owned 57 percent of the expected goals, according to Evolving Hockey. However, the Lightning’s top-end players — including their goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy — have made the difference. The Lightning have outscored the Panthers 3.9-3.3 on a per-60-minutes basis. Knight was great in his first start, saving 2.3 goals above expected while facing 40 shots.
At this time, the Lightning are currently listed as -145 favorites, depending on where you shop for lines, and I believe that’s an accurate representation of their chances of winning the game and finishing the series in six. I’ll be looking for a hard move toward the Panthers to bring the price down and open up an opportunity to bet the Lightning at a reduced price. I won’t be in a rush to bet the first move, though, as the Lightning haven’t really given bettors much incentive to bet on them in this series. Hold out for -130 or better.
(4) New York Islanders vs. (1) Pittsburgh Penguins
Goaltending has been the difference in this series. Penguins starter Tristan Jarry was thought to be the least capable goaltender heading into the series, and his play through five games has done nothing to change that thinking. Jarry has allowed 3.5 goals above expected while Islanders rookie Ilya Sorokin seems to be solidifying himself as New York’s starting goaltender, at least in the short term. Sorokin has saved the team 2.1 total goals above expected in his three starts. Without him, I’m not sure the Islanders would be leading the series 3-2. I have not been keen on laying chalk with either team here and have opted to take small positions on the Islanders at underdogs prices throughout the series. The Penguins have undoubtedly been the better team, though.
Through five games, the Islanders have been bested in just about every meaningful category that doesn’t show up on the scoresheet as a result of trying to play shut-down hockey. However, while the Isles have taken only about 43 percent of the shot attempts, they’ve limited the Penguins to a 51 percent share of expected goals in all situations. In other words, while the Penguins have been dictating the pace of play, and spending a lot of time with the puck on their stick, not enough of their shots have been from the dangerous areas of the ice. Heading into Wednesday’s game, the Islanders have home-ice advantage, and their chances of finishing off Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins should resemble that of a coin flip and do at the time of this writing. There could be a big move toward the Penguins, which could mean that bettors might be offered the Islanders at an underdog price, in that case, they would be worth a bet.
(3) Minnesota Wild vs. (2) Vegas Golden Knights
When the Golden Knights took a 3-1 series lead, it was beginning to feel as if they had finally figured out the Wild and goaltender Cam Talbot. The Wild managed to weather the storm in Vegas on Monday, though, and now the series heads back to Minnesota as the Wild have a chance to force a deciding Game 7. Personally, I haven’t been able to find value betting the Golden Knights in this series, and don’t see that changing. I estimate that the Golden Knights have about a 53 percent chance of winning Wednesday’s game and eliminating the Wild and an 80 percent chance of winning one of the next two games. However, at %plussignE0, there’s some value in backing the Wild to stage a comeback, but there’s also value in betting them at home on Wednesday if the price doesn’t move too much from where it opened on Tuesday, at %plussign5.
The Golden Knights are clearly the better team and have dominated possession, but they don’t generate enough high-quality chances. This was evident in Monday’s loss when the Golden Knights managed 67 shot attempts during five-on-five play but only 12 of those were from the high-danger area of the ice. That’s not good enough. The Golden Knights should win the series, especially if goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury continues to play the way he has, but the door is open for a Wild comeback (pun intended) and I would rather take the home underdog on Wednesday and roll over my winnings (if the Wild are able to tie the series) in the seventh game. If the series does make its way back to Vegas, there’s a good chance we could see an absurd game line. If that is the case, I would suggest holding your nose and betting the Wild to complete the comeback.