Top NHL Betting Pick For Thursday, May 20th (2021)

The first full week of the 2021 NHL playoffs has been about as intense as we could’ve hoped for. We’ve seen seven one-goal games, plus a playoff series that’s had its first three games decided in overtime. And after last year’s incredibly bizarre playoff bubble, the return of fans has only added to the intensity.

Thursday’s slate presents us with four critical games, including Game 1 of what should be a highly entertaining series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. Among that slate, there’s one game I feel particularly confident about.

We’re headed to the Sunshine State for my best bet for Thursday night.

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Florida Panthers (+130) at Tampa Bay Lightning 

The defending champions entered the postseason sluggishly, going 2-3-1 down the stretch. But the Bolts couldn’t have asked for a better start to the playoffs, taking the first two games on the road over their in-state rival. The return of elite scorer Nikita Kucherov has been huge. He’s scored two goals and tallied four points in his first two games back from a hip injury that sidelined him for the entire regular season.

Heading back home, the public might expect the champs to continue rolling in Game 3. But I see this as a good buy-low opportunity on the Panthers.

First of all, let’s remember that Florida closed as favorites in Game 2 after losing a 5-4 thriller in Game 1. The Panthers have outshot Tampa 104-98 in the series and actually won the expected goals battle in Game 2. It’s fair to say this series should be tied 1-1, as the Panthers haven’t been thoroughly outplayed.

The Panthers turned to Chris Driedger in net in Game 2 after Sergei Bobrovsky allowed five goals on 40 shots in Game 1. That switch proved effective, as Driedger surrendered only two goals on 28 shots in the second game. While Bobrovsky has the richer contract, Driedger gives the Panthers a better chance to win right now. And I suspect Panthers coach Joel Quenneville feels the same.

At +130, there’s pretty good value on Florida in this matchup. There’s always the risk that Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy could steal a game. But I’m confident Florida will come out with plenty of urgency and avoid the dreaded 3-0 hole.

Pick: Florida Panthers (+130)

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