On opening night, Tampa Bay was listed as the second favorite to win the Stanley Cup at 10-1. Way down the board were the New Jersey Devils, fresh off a 70-point campaign, at 100-1. Only three teams had longer odds than the Devils.
Tampa is the obvious favorite, but the Devils aren’t without a slight chance in this one. New Jersey actually swept the season series against the Bolts, winning two of the three games in regulation and the other in overtime.
New Jersey (+260) vs. Tampa Bay (-320)
Game 1: Thursday, April 12, New Jersey at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m. ET, NHL Network
Game 2: Saturday, April 14, New Jersey at Tampa Bay, 3 p.m. ET, NBC
Game 3: Monday, April 16, Tampa Bay at New Jersey, 7:30 p.m. ET, CNBC
Game 4: Wednesday, April 18, Tampa Bay at New Jersey, 7:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel (no, really)
*Game 5: Saturday, April 21, New Jersey at Tampa Bay, TBD
*Game 6: Monday, April 23, Tampa Bay at New Jersey, TBD
*Game 7: Wednesday, April 25, New Jersey at Tampa Bay, TBD
Setting the stage: Tampa did secure the top spot and home ice throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, thanks to a Bruins loss in the season finale, but the Lightning come into this game far from peak form. After starting 48-17-4, the Bolts have played average hockey of late, compiling a 6-6-1 record over their past 13 games. Also, in 2018, they’ve only played .500 puck against playoff teams (9-9). Meanwhile, the Devils come in on a roll, having won 10 of their last 14 (10-3-1). I will note however that New Jersey’s +4 regular season goal differential is worst among the playoff teams. — Stuckey
Injuries: Steven Stamkos has battled injuries over the past month, but he’ll suit up for Game 1, although he’s admittedly not operating at 100%. The Devils figure to be without forward Marcus Johansson, an underrated second-line asset, for at least the early part of the series.
The Numbers Do The Talkin’: Believe it or not, the Devils created more expected goals per 60 minutes (xGF/60) than the Lightning did at 5v5 this season (adjusted for score + venue). In terms of goals scored per 60, Tampa nets 2.89, which is the best mark in the league. While the Bolts don’t create all that many expected goals, they do generate plenty of scoring chances (31.3 per 60 minutes at 5v5). And with their talent up front, even the slightest scoring chance should worry their opponents.
Outside of their solid xGF/60, the Devils leave a lot to be desired under the hood. New Jersey has a sub-50 Corsi For % (a barometer for possession that measures the amount of shot attempts for vs. shot attempts allowed, also known as CF%). They were also actually outscored at 5v5 this season. Neither of those metrics are a formula for success.
What the Devils do have is Taylor Hall. The first pick of the 2010 draft had a sensational season and basically willed New Jersey to the playoffs on his own. Hall created the fifth-most goals in the league this season, per Hockey Reference. The star winger can tilt the ice against even the best opposition, but unfortunately for New Jersey, he can’t play 60 minutes. When Hall isn’t on the ice, the drop-off is significant. The Devils have a few solid middle-six guys up front, but their defense will be overwhelmed all series. — Michael Leboff