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We’ve held off long enough at putting our cap into the outright market, but today is the day.
With Round 2 of the NHL playoffs a week old, we have a better understanding of the possible divisional outcomes. The most interesting thing this year, we feel, is that once the four teams reach the semi-finals, anything is possible as all four squads will be seeing each other for the first time all year.
Outright Winner — Tampa Bay Lightning (+275 at PointsBet)
The Colorado Avalanche are the heavy favorite to hoist the Cup in 2021 at +210. However, getting there is proving difficult as their series versus the Vegas Golden Knights is tied 2-2. Instead, we’re putting our outright money on a team that won 16 playoff games a year ago, has a Vezina-nominated goaltender in net and boasts an offense that is scoring 3.60 goals per game and 41 percent power play.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are coming off their biggest win on Saturday — a 6-4 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes to push the series to 3-1 in their favor. Tampa trailed by two goals in the second period but stormed back with four unanswered goals of their own. The Bolts will look to ride that momentum into Game 5 where they can secure their birth in the semi-finals.
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If the Lightning do secure that fourth win and advance to the next round, they won’t have to face the Avalanche or Golden Knights as Tampa’s 75 regular-season points would be the second-most of the final-four teams. A date with the Bruins or Islanders is what lies ahead for the reigning champs.
The Bruins and Islanders are in the middle of a physical series that is tied 2-2 heading into Monday’s Game 5 and if Tampa can wrap up their series on Tuesday in Carolina, the Bolts could enjoy some rest and recuperation heading into the semis against a bruised up opponent from the East Division.
The biggest test for the Lightning would be a finals matchup against Colorado or Las Vegas. However, if there is one team left in the playoffs that can go toe-to-toe with the big dogs of the West, it's Tampa Bay.
Also there is a possibility that the Montreal Canadiens could keep on winning and sneak into the Finals themselves. Like we said in the intro, once the semi-finals hit, anything can happen as those four teams have not played each other all year.
Getting Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos back has made a world of difference for the third-seed Lightning. Kucherov leads all playoff skaters with 17 points (5G, 12A) while Stamkos is tied with Nathan MacKinnon for second with 13 points. Even center Brayden Point is averaging more than a point per game.
The power play has been near-automatic having scored 14 times on 34 opportunities. Carolina finished the season with the fourth-best goals against and had the league’s third-best PK so the Lightning's PP success is legit. Since locking horns with the Bolts in Round 2, Carolina has allowed six PP goals through four games.
No team is winning it all without good goaltending and despite a shaky Game 4, Andrei Vasilevskiy can be counted on to single-handedly win a series. Vasilevskiy has a .926 save percentage and a 2.25 GAA which are average numbers in the playoffs, however, he's allowed one or fewer goals in four of his eight games this year and finished last year’s postseason with a 1.90 GAA. This team can beat you 2-0 or 6-2.
With so much talk about the Avs, the 2020 champs aren’t getting nearly as much credit as they deserve. Sure, getting the Lighting at +400 a week ago would have been an intelligent move, but +275 is still great value for a team on the brink of entering the final four and will likely have a favorable matchup to get to the finals.
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