The Boston Bruins overcame a rough NHL restart to advance to the Conference Semifinals, and will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Sunday's Game 1.
Despite finishing with the league's best record in the regular season, Boston found itself as the No. 4 seed in the East after three straight losses. The Lightning overcame adversity in their own right, getting revenge on Columbus for last year's playoffs with three consecutive wins to close out the Blue Jackets 4-1.
Something has to give between these Atlantic Division rivals, who are each totally worthy of hoisting the Stanley Cup. Read the rest of abe Insights' preview for the best odds across all sportsbooks, a breakdown of the main betting lines and stats that should better inform your wagers.
Date: Sunday, August 23
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Implied Probabilities: Bruins 50%; Lightning 52%
Spread: BOS +1.5 (-280); TB -1.5 (+260)
Moneyline: BOS +100; TB -110
After getting swept during round-robin action and seeing superstar goalie Tuukka Rask opt out of the playoffs, it seemed like Boston was in big trouble. However, Jaroslav Halak has stepped in between the pipes and performed well enough to help the B's defeat a hot Carolina team in five games last series.
Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy guards the crease for Tampa Bay and has had a sensational postseason, going 6-2 with a 1.98 GAA. One downer for the Lightning, though: forward Steven Stamkos remains out with a lower body injury.
.501 vs. .138: Although Rask led the NHL in this stat among goalies with at least 31 games played, Halak ranked third in save percentage above expected, per MoneyPuck.com. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's Vasilevskiy was eighth among qualifiers.
17.9 vs. 13.3: Boston missed on 13 straight power play chances upon returning to the ice, but the club has rebounded admirably on special teams. The first figure is the Bruins' postseason power play percentage, ranking 10th of 24 teams, whereas the Lightning's struggles have them in 19th.
257 vs. 239: Although these teams have a certain finesse about them, they're not afraid to get physical — sometimes to a detrimental degree. During the 2019-20 season, Tampa drew the second-most minor penalty minutes, and Boston wasn't far behind with the fifth-most.
It'd obviously be nice if Tampa Bay could have Stamkos skating onto the ice, but the Bolts have learned to adjust to life without him and have continued to thrive. Having someone like Vasilevskiy in net only emboldens the Lightning's deep attack to push the pace, stay aggressive and create chances.
What's probably most important for the Bolts in Game 1 and going forward is maintaining their philosophy despite the heightened stakes of the playoffs. Falling short in recent years has been the result of being too conservative and passive, letting opponents hit them too often without dishing enough of the punishment themselves.
An uptick in penalties during the regular season suggests Tampa Bay isn't backing down, as does its rather easy disposing of Columbus in the opening round. Whereas teams of yesteryear may have faded in the midst of the Jackets' series opener, which went to a whopping five overtimes, these Bolts instead struck down CBJ with a 3-2 win.
But as strong as the Lightning are at forward, led by the stupendously gifted Nikita Kucherov and leading playoff goal scorer Brayden Point, they're facing an even stingier defensive lineup in Boston's blue line rotation.
Halak is no Rask as the Bruins' starting goaltender, but he's not a drastic downgrade, either. He's never quite been handed the keys to a No. 1 goalie gig for the playoffs, having seen limited postseason action for three different franchises over the course of his career. Thus, don't expect Halak to let this opportunity slip easily.
Very few, if any, bettors are going to place a bet on Boston's puck line at such short odds, so look for the vast majority of handle and bet percentage to go to the Lightning's spread.
Until Tampa Bay proves it can overcome years of falling short in the postseason, though, public sentiment is likely to favor the Bruins moneyline overall. Since Boston plays such stout defense, wagers seem destined to trend to the Under, which leaves more upside in betting on a high-scoring face-off.
Note: Odds current as of 1:25 p.m. ET on Sunday, August 23.
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