The Tampa Bay Lightning are cruising through the playoffs, and have a chance on Monday to knock out the regular-season champion Boston Bruins in Game 5.
Since losing the series opener and falling behind 2-1 in the second contest, Tampa Bay has asserted its collective will against the Bruins, highlighted by a 7-1 Game 3 rout. Can the B's stave off elimination?
Read more on this face-off in abe Insights' preview, which features the best odds upon publication, analysis of the main lines and stats to help your betting strategy.
Date: Monday, August 31
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Implied Probabilities: Bruins 48%; Lightning 55%
Spread: BOS +1.5 (-240); TB -1.5 (+230)
Moneyline: BOS +110; TB -120
As the series has worn on, the absence of stud goalie Tuukka Rask has become all the more apparent for the Bruins. Rask is arguably the best at his position in the NHL, so when he opted out of the playoffs, Jaroslav Halak had big shoes to fill. It hasn't worked out thus far.
While Tampa Bay continues to be without key veterans in forward Steven Stamkos and defenseman Ryan McDonagh, it hasn't seemed to faze the club at all. There's been plenty of depth up front and on the blue line for the Lightning to mine.
12 vs. 4: The Lightning have a big edge in first-period goals during these playoffs. Starting slow is something that's devastated Boston in its prior two losses, and the underdogs can't afford to do that again in an elimination game.
.412 vs. .375: Even if the Bruins begin slowly again, though, don't necessarily count out a rally. They were just behind the Bolts for third place during the 2019-20 campaign in winning percentage when trailing through one period.
-0.666 vs. .125: Halak was second in the NHL among goalies with at least 31 games played in 5-on-5 rebounds above expected, per MoneyPuck.com. Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy ranked 15th, so the Bruins can't be too precious on offense and must throw the puck at the net often, rather than make extra passes.
Rallying is one thing when a backstop like Rask is between the pipes, but it seems like Boston's confidence has all but evaporated. Rask was so pivotal to the club that was one win away from a Stanley Cup last postseason, and not having him has proven a big blow.
Three straight round-robin losses preceded an impressive 3-1 triumph over Carolina, yet the Bruins haven't looked the same since taking Game 1 from the Lightning. Another streak of three consecutive defeats has followed, and in the latter two, Vasilevsky has demoralized Boston's attack, conceding just two goals on 54 shots.
Even more significant, the Lightning know precisely what it's like to win the Presidents' Trophy, only to suffer a postseason letdown. Tampa Bay got swept by Columbus in the first round last year, only to rebound in a big way to KO CBJ in five games in a 2020 sequel set.
The last time the Bolts advanced to the Conference Finals was 2018, when they beat Boston in a lopsided 4-1 series. A similar script is playing out here, and it could be Tampa's fourth trip this deep in the playoffs over the past six seasons. The soft, less resilient team of yesteryear has transformed into a more physical bunch that's embraced the playoff atmosphere.
Riding the Lightning has rewarded bettors of late, and there's little reason to believe the greater share of wagers will change from recent trends of favoring Tampa Bay's spread and moneyline.
The standard goal total line is probably right, but between the Bruins being in desperation mode and the Bolts boasting such a brigade of scorers, look for bets to err on the side of the Over.
Note: Odds current as of 1:05 p.m. ET on Monday, August 31.
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