NHL picks: 4 best bets for Lightning vs Rangers Game 1
Andrew Berkshire provides his best NHL picks and predictions for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals between the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning.
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The Western Conference final has the vaunted Nathan MacKinnon vs Connor McDavid matchup that’s driving most of the discussion online about the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs, but let’s not sleep on the equal but opposite matchup on the other side of the league.
The Eastern Conference final is giving us Igor Shesterkin vs Andrei Vasilevskiy, a goalie matchup for the ages, and one between two countrymen at that. This year’s Vezina favourite and a Hart contender against the defending, two-time Stanley Cup champion who happens to be the best closer in the league. It’s going to be wild.
The Rangers have had an incredible run so far, getting timely scoring from their best players and bonkers great goaltending, but at 5-vs-5 they have scored 50.9 per cent of the goals with an expected goals ration of 39.7 per cent, the worst mark in the playoffs.
At a certain point in the playoffs, that kind of play is going to catch up to them, as is playing two seven-game series to start the playoffs. There have been some comparisons to the Montreal Canadiens of last year, but the Canadiens after two rounds had controlled 50.56 per cent of the expected goals. Not even the same stratosphere.
The Rangers have relied heavily on their red hot powerplay, scoring on 32.5 per cent of their opportunities, but they now face the best penalty kill in the playoffs as well. It’s going to be a rough road to success for New York.
With these goalies, and Brayden Point still injured, was there any doubt about this one?
Things can always go crazy. A rested Tampa team could turn on the jets and blow out the Rangers, or a rusty Tampa team could get blown out by the Rangers, but the odds are way more likely that we see what we expect from this series - a goaltending battle for the ages.
The Lightning have been fast starters all playoffs long, and it’s been the key to their success so far in these playoffs. Without the scoring power of Brayden Point to give teams more to deal with than the Stamkos line, the Lightning have been playing excellent lock-it-down hockey.
The Rangers are no slouches in terms of fast starts, but the Lightning have so much more experience overall, and bring with them a rested squad that has seemed unbelievably determined to be the first to three-peat since the New York Islanders in the early 1980s.
With 39 shots so far in these playoffs, Hedman is way more shot-happy than he was in last year’s playoffs, when it's not certain if he was 100 per cent healthy. With Point out, Hedman’s ability to be a factor offensively is more important than ever, and as the games get longer you can expect Hedman to get more ice time.
Two years ago, Hedman had a wild outlier playoffs where he scored 10 goals in 25 games, and while I doubt that he’ll get to that point this year, the Lightning will need some of that energy to get pucks through Shesterkin, and he should be more than willing to bring it.