When you think of the Tampa Bay Lightning, you think of offensive firepower. And that makes complete sense when you look at their star-studded lineup.
But when I watched the Bolts close out their Game 3 win over the New York Islanders, the only word that came to mind was stifling. The Lightning put the clamps on in closing time, silencing the raucous crowd at Nassau Coliseum. Tampa Bay is the defending champion because they can win playoff games in various ways, with Game 3 being an excellent example.
But here’s the thing: the Islanders have hung around and still have plenty of hope in this series. And that leads me to my top pick for Saturday night’s showdown.
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New York Islanders (+115) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Sometimes, the line tells you a lot of what you need to know. On Thursday night, the Isles opened at +150 before closing at +118 by puck drop. But Friday night, New York opened at just +115 for Game 4 despite trailing in the series.
Interesting, isn’t it? But there are more reasons to like the Islanders besides the curious opening lines.
I won’t go as far as to say the Islanders have been the better team in the series. But they’ve been pretty darn even with the defending champs. In fact, New York’s been the better team at 5-on-5, holding a 6.89-5.09 expected goals edge at even strength. The Islanders have also generated 31 high-danger chances compared to 21 from Tampa. And in Game 3, New York won the high-danger chance battle, 14-6.
Where things get perilous is when Tampa gets on the power play. The Lightning have converted 40% of their power play opportunities in the postseason and have scored two of their seven goals in this series with the man advantage. And while Thursday night’s game-winning goal by Brayden Point technically wasn’t on the power play, it came just seconds after the man advantage expired.
As I mentioned in my Game 3 preview, the Islanders also don’t have many top-end scoring options. Mat Barzal has been great in the playoffs, but he can’t do everything. And in Game 3, New York’s fourth line was the only line that applied consistent pressure on Tampa’s back end. With the advantage of last change, the Islanders need to get more out of their top six players.
Fortunately for Islanders fans, Barry Trotz is one of the best coaches in the sport and should have some adjustments up his sleeve. Of course, the Isles could benefit from just a little bit of puck luck. But luck may not be enough against Tampa goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Betting against the Lightning is always a scary proposition. They have spectacular top-end talent, can play great defense, and have arguably the best goaltender in the game if all else fails. But the Islanders have been right there and will certainly come out as the more desperate team on home ice.
Back the Islanders to bounce back and even the series.
Pick: New York Islanders (+115)
Quick Lookahead to Vegas-Montreal Game 4
I also wanted to quickly look ahead to Game 4 between the Vegas Golden Knights and Montreal Canadiens. I’ll keep this short and sweet. Vegas had no business losing Game 3. The beauty of the NHL playoffs is everything can go wrong, but a hot goalie can steal you a win. That’s exactly what happened in Game 3. Montreal’s Carey Price kept his team in the game, stopping 38 of 40 shots in regulation and seven more in overtime.
It also helped that Marc-Andre Fleury made arguably the biggest blooper of his career, allowing Montreal to tie the game late.
Fleury, what is you doing… pic.twitter.com/IIcW38S0cq
— World Hockey Report (@worldhockeyrpt) June 19, 2021
The Golden Knights are the superior team, and it’s taken Price standing on his head and an inexplicable miscue from Fleury for the Habs to have a series lead. As of Friday night, Vegas is -159 to win Game 4 and +105 to win in regulation on DraftKings. I’ve already bet on Vegas to win Game 4 and expect those prices to soar by Sunday.
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Matt Barbato is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Matt, check out his archive and follow him @RealMattBarbato.
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