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NHL Odds & Pick for Lightning vs. Blackhawks: Value on Chicago as Home Underdog (March 4)

NHL Odds & Pick for Lightning vs. Blackhawks: Value on Chicago as Home Underdog (March 4) article feature image

Robin Alam/Getty Images. Pictured: Alex DeBrincat (12) celebrates with teammates.

  • The Lightning have won 15 of 20 and have built a brand on successful offense.
  • Chicago has been trending up since the last time these two teams met to start the season.
  • Matt Russell explains why its worth taking a flyer on the home underdog.

Lightning vs. Blackhawks Odds

Lightning Odds -220
Blackhawks Odds +180
Over/Under 5.5
Time | TV Thursday, 8 p.m. ET
Odds as of Wednesday night and via DraftKings.

I have the secret to winning games in all sports. I want you to lean in for this one, but you have to swear not to tell your friends. Ready? 

You are going to win every single game you play, if you don’t allow the other team to score.

I know! A revolutionary theory that is shaking you to your very core, but sometimes I think we overlook the simplest things, and hockey is no exception. We get all excited about the thrilling offensive plays because it’s hard to score goals.

As a young man (and a not-so-young man, to be honest), I couldn’t have cared less about preventing goals, as scoring was all I thought about on the ice. However, truth be told that the best teams in the history of hockey were better at preventing goals than they were at scoring them, with few exceptions.

Tampa Bay Lightning

The literal brand of the defending Stanley Cup Champions is one of a Lightning bolt, a charge that alludes to excitement. Their figurative brand is not dissimilar, as years of stock-piling offensive talent finally culminated in a championship last season. Speaking of secrets, the Lightning have their own that is being spread like a high school rumour through the NHL — they’re one of the great defensive teams in the league. 

The Lightning’s numbers are never going to be league-lows, but that’s just because other teams in the division are stylistically predicated on sacrificing their own offensive creation for shutting the other team down. It’s a lot easier to keep the other team from scoring, if you have no interest in scoring yourself.

Tampa is averaging 6.9 even-strength High-Danger Chances against this season and have allowed double-digits in just a quarter of their games. The real difference-maker in their own end is the simplest reason for any team’s defensive success. Andrei Vasilevskiy leads the league in Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA), and it’s not even close. His 15.95 GSAA is more than 5 goals clear of second-place. 

The defensive system that they’ve cultivated in the last two seasons, since their rude awakening in 2019 when the offensively-driven Lightning got swept out of the first round by the defense-first Blue Jackets, is overshadowing some offensive issues.

The Lightning won their 15th game (Tuesday against Dallas) of 20 so far this season, despite only managing 0.89 Expected Goals on 5-on-5. It was their third straight game with less than 1 XG. With Vasilevskiy putting up his third shutout in a row, it didn’t matter as a first period power play goal held up as the game-winner.

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Expected goals (also known as xG) is a predictive statistic that gives an indication of whether results are based on sustainable factors like a steady creation of scoring chances, or whether it is down to aspects such as shooting luck or outstanding goaltending.

Simply put, an expected goals rate (xGF%) above 50% is considered good because it means a team is creating the majority of the scoring chances. Anything below 50% is usually a sign that a team is struggling to control play.

xG numbers cited from Evolving Hockey.

Chicago Blackhawks

Perception is a heckuva thing. When last they met, the Blackhawks were thought to be one of, if not the worst team in the entire NHL. If we’re being honest, the two games to start the season in Tampa didn’t do a ton to change many minds.

Since then though, Chicago has stumbled into improved goaltending with the emergence of Kevin Lankinen. We’re not talking Vasilevskiy-level here, but with a 8.35 GSAA, the Finnish rookie is in the top-five difference-making goaltenders in the league. 

The Blackhawks have a reputation for offence, but that’s more due to a league-leading power play. At even-strength, my “Let’s Do That Hockey” model, as heard on THE WINDOW: Sports Betting Podcast, Chicago rates as 9% below average, so the fact they’re sitting comfortably in a playoff spot right now is thanks to their success with the man-advantage.

At even-strength, they have room to improve, as they’re converting just 12.34% of their High-Danger Chances, which is a good sign especially since they’ve come from a point where they were 10.8%. Essentially, things are actually looking up for the Hawks on offence. 

Betting Analysis & Pick

The Lightning’s rating in my model dropped after their win in Dallas, and they now sit at just 8% above average, as we wait for them to pick their offensive creation to the level of years past. It’s no surprise that one of the best goaltenders of the last five years is again the best goaltender.

As Tampa arrives in Chicago for three of games, I expect that we’ll see Curtis McElhinney in net for one of the two games on back-to-back nights. The line for this game is projected to be TB -220/CHI +180, whereas my model projects the Lighting to a win probability of almost 58% which translates to not quite -140. 

I’m willing to take a flyer here on the Blackhawks, to see if they can continue their better play at even-strength and take advantage of a good power play, even against the stingy Lightning. The good thing about the price tag on the home underdog is that you get three chances to turn a profit, so even if they don’t pull the upset in this one, I’ll be back on the Blackhawks on Friday night and maybe even Saturday. 

Pick: Blackhawks (+180 or better)

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