The Tampa Bay Lightning are showing a toughness lacking in recent years against the Boston Bruins, as the clubs enter Wednesday's Game 3 fighting for leverage in this best-of-seven series.
Despite Boston claiming the Atlantic Division title in the regular season and the Presidents' Trophy — both of which Tampa Bay won last year — it's the Lightning who are trending in the right direction right now. They won on Tuesday 4-3 in overtime, which marks their third win in extra time since the first round began.
Proceed further for more on this face-off in abe Insights' preview, which has the best odds from all major sportsbooks, analysis of the primary betting lines and stats to give you a better idea of what each club's strengths and weaknesses are.
Date: Sunday, August 23
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Implied Probabilities: Lightning 51%; Bruins 52%
Spread: TB +1.5 (+260); BOS -1.5 (-280)
Moneyline: TB +110; BOS -100
Having two games in as many nights isn't easy on any hockey player or team, and it makes the goaltender position even more vital. Jaroslav Halak is confirmed to be in net for Boston, although the team will be without defenseman Ryan McDonagh, per NHL.com's Amalie Benjamin.
It's unlikely the Bolts will deviate from their typical starter between the pipes in Andrei Vasilevskiy, due to their lack of viable backups. Halak is already a fill-in for the Bruins' gig after superstar Tuukka Rask opted out of the playoffs.
20.6 vs. 10.0: Boston and Tampa Bay had the third- and fifth-ranked power plays during the regular season, but the playoffs have been a different story. Whereas the Bruins are still doing fine with the man advantage, the Lightning are tied with Philadelphia for last among the remaining teams.
-0.189 vs. -.066: Among the goaltenders, Halak held the slight edge in 2019-20 when it came to rebounds above expected percentage, per MoneyPuck.com. Vasilevskiy ranked ninth among qualifiers who played a minimum of 31 games, while Halak was in the top five.
.888 vs. .868: Another area where Halak was a bit better than his Tampa Bay counterpart was power play save percentage. If that holds true, Halak will make it even tougher for the Lightning to get going in a department where they've been really lacking production.
The Lightning's grittier brand of hockey has served them well. Last year's club, who got swept by Columbus in the opening round, may not have stuck through a five-overtime marathon to top CBJ, and may not have recovered from an initial loss to the Bruins to prevail in Game 2, despite Boston's equalizer with 3:58 left in regulation.
It's almost as if Tampa Bay has used the doubters of prior postseasons to fuel their ongoing success and exemplary response to setbacks throughout the year. Even a long-term injury to franchise cornerstone Steven Stamkos hasn't kept the Bolts down.
McDonagh's presence on the blue line will be missed for Game 3, but the Lightning are obviously accustomed to handling such situations with the next man stepping up. They have enough firepower at forward to offset any defensive losses, and have one of the game's premier goalies in Vasilevskiy guarding the crease as it is.
Halak is a fine fill-in option for Rask, yet despite a slight statistical edge in some key areas, he's not to Vasilevskiy's level. That truth should reveal itself as the series progresses. Rask is Boston's rock, and there's no question the Bruins are more vulnerable without him. He brings a certain intangible, intimidating factor that Halak can't match.
Since exacting vengeance on the Blue Jackets in only five games, this Lightning team is forging a new identity. They're more physical, aggressive and tougher, which is typically the Bruins' recipe for success. If Tampa can stay in the moment and keep bouncing back at the rate it has, Lord Stanley's Cup could be headed to the Sunshine State soon enough.
Matchups that are this close in implied probability create an excellent opportunity on the slight favorite's puck line. With the Bruins getting +260 as of this writing, Boston's spread is definitely where most of the action should go, but expect wagers to ride the Lightning moneyline due to their superior offensive attack.
The goal total went below the line in Game 1 and above it last night, and the back-to-back factor is in play here as both teams try to catch their breath off an overtime contest. That element alone should cause more bettors than not to put action on the Under.
Note: Odds current as of 2:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday, August 26.
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