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Islanders vs. Bruins Game 1 Odds, Picks and Series Preview: Is New York Undervalued on the Road? (May 29)

Islanders vs. Bruins Game 1 Odds, Picks and Series Preview: Is New York Undervalued on the Road? (May 29) article feature image

Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Ilya Sorokin.

  • The New York Islanders will take on the Boston Bruins in the first game of their Stanley Cup Playoff series on Saturday night.
  • The two teams finished the season separated by only two points, but oddsmakers think there's a much bigger difference.
  • Michael Leboff breaks down the series and Game 1 and explains where the value lies by sharing a pick and prediction based on his analysis.

Islanders vs. Bruins Odds

Islanders Odds+150
Bruins Odds-178
Over/Under5 (-148/+120)
TimeSaturday, 8 p.m. ET
Odds as of Friday evening and via FanDuel.

The New York Islanders and Boston Bruins come into Round 2 with similar reputations but wildly different expectations. Both teams are known for their defensive structure, commitment to detail and for being a "team built for the playoffs."

If that's the case, then why does the betting market view these two teams that finished the season separated by just two points and three goals so differently? Boston is a -230 favorite over New York in this series, meaning the Bruins are expected to win this series 69.7% of the time.

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Tale of the Tape

As always, the end-of-season standings only tell part of the story.

The Islanders were legitimately one of the best teams in the NHL through the first 38 games of the season, while the Bruins struggled to find their game in that same span.

Down the stretch, things changed.

The Bruins, who were desperate for some offensive support behind The Perfection Line, acquired former league MVP Taylor Hall at the Trade Deadline. From that point forward, the Bruins have played like a legitimate contender.

On the other side, the Islanders stumbled down the stretch as they tried to find the right lineup. That context is important when you look at the season-long numbers between these two teams because the margins are razor-thin in a vacuum.

Goals For per 60 minutes (5-on-5)2.372.47
Goals Against per 60 (5-on-5)2.071.97
Goal Differential per 60 (5-on-5)+0.3+0.5
Expected Goals per 60 (5-on-5)2.162.24
Expected Goals Against per 60 (5-on-5)1.892.07
Expected Goal Differential per 60 (5-on-5)+0.37+0.17
High-Danger Scoring Chances per 60 (5-on-5)8.8611.27
High-Danger Scoring Chances Allowed per 60 (5-on-5)8.78.78
Power Play %21.71%18.75%
Penalty Kill %86.29%83.7%
Expected Save Percentage94.25%94.97%
Save Percentage (starting goalie).913.918
Goals Saved Above Expectation (starting goalie)-1.16+2.74

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 and advanced stats cited from Evolving Hockey, MoneyPuck and Natural Stat Trick.

What should stick out right away is that both of these teams do a great job of keeping pucks out of their own net and out of the high-danger areas. Playing responsible defense and making life easy on the goaltender is the lifeblood for both clubs, and for the most part, they accomplished that during the regular season.

Where these two teams begin to drift apart is in their roster makeup.

While both teams feature deep forward groups, true No. 1 defensemen and great goaltending, the Bruins have more to offer in terms of their high-end talent.

The Islanders will not only need to find a way to cope with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, but also with a second line that features an in-form Hall, David Krejci and Craig Smith.

The bottom of the forward groups are a wash, and you can even make the argument the Isles have a slight edge if healthy, but that doesn't negate the advantage Boston has with The Perfection Line plus Hall at the top.

Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Taylor Hall

The Bruins Keep Rolling

The Boston Bruins have seemingly peaked at the right time.

Including Round 1, the Bruins have gone 16-5-1 in the 22 games since acquiring Hall at the Trade Deadline. Those results are impressive, but they're also well-earned. Boston has dominated its opponents at 5-on-5 since Hall (and Curtis Lazar and Mike Reilly) arrived.

Stat (5-on-5)Before Hall (39 games)After Hall (17 games)
Goals For per 60 minutes2.023.14
Expected Goals per 60 minutes1.952.62
Expected Goals Rate49.3%61.7%
Shooting percentage6.43%8.34%

Boston carried that form into the tournament, skating to a 58.03% expected goals rate and a 61.54% high-danger chance rate in a gentleman's sweep over the Washington Capitals in Round 1. While the Bruins needed a couple of overtime wins along the way, they were clearly the better team.

If you do want to poke holes into Boston's current run, you can point to its schedule since the Trade Deadline. A team can only beat the team in front of it, but there's no denying the B's had a light run into the tournament with eight of their last 17 games coming against the Devils and Sabres.

You'd also be within your right to suggest the Capitals were the easiest Round 1 opponent in the East Division considering they were banged up, played their No. 3 goaltender for the first half of the series and were without one of their best centers for half the contest as well.

Still, it was an impressive display from the Bruins, as they imposed their will on the Capitals at even strength. Washington, one of the league's best offensive teams, only mustered seven goals, 8.17 expected goals and 30 high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5 against the B's in Round 1.

There seems to be enough evidence to believe the Bruins have rounded into the Stanley Cup contender we all expected them to be before the season.

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The Islanders Did It Again

While the Bruins basically swatted the Caps aside, the Islanders played a very different Round 1 series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Isles grinded their way through the Penguins, 4-2, in trademark Islanders fashion. At times the Isles bent, but they never broke, thanks in large part to rookie goaltender Ilya Sorokin.

Sorokin, who spent the last seven years or so dominating the KHL, endured a couple of bumps in his rookie season in the NHL, but for the most part has acclimated himself quite well. The 25-year-old finished the regular season with a .918 save percentage and +2.74 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) in 22 games.

As encouraging as those numbers are, it was Sorokin's performance in Round 1 that has Islander fans believing that they can pull the upset over Boston with their supposed No. 2 goaltender in the blue paint.

Sorokin outplayed Tristan Jarry in Game 1, then was unsurprisingly replaced by Semyon Varlamov in Game 2 after it was deemed that Varlamov, who posted splendid numbers in the regular season, was healthy enough to play.

A couple of underwhelming performances in Games 2 and 3 meant that Sorokin was back in for Game 4, and he delivered a composed performance en route to a 4-1 win. Sorokin then proceeded to steal Game 5 in what may be the best goaltending performance we see for the entire postseason.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images. Pictured: Barry Trotz

The narrative coming out of the Isles' victory over the Penguins is that New York was gifted the series by Penguins goaltender Jarry, who skated to a -6.72 GSAx in the series. While it's true that even bad-not-terrible goaltending from Jarry would have made that series a different story, part of the Islanders' identity is to win the goaltending battle.

That will be a much steeper task in Round 2 against Tuukka Rask, but it's definitely not out of the question that Sorokin and Varlamov can out-perform Rask over the next two weeks.

While Sorokin was the star of the show against the Penguins, the rest of the team was a mixed bag. There were some lean moments for a lot of Islanders throughout the six-game victory, but the team stuck with it in those situations and never let the Penguins run away with a game.

Overall, the Islanders outscored the Penguins, 18-12, at 5-on-5 but lost the expected goals battle, 13.46 to 11.22. Those numbers provide further evidence that goaltending was the difference, but to say the Penguins dominated the entire series but for the goaltending is a bit dramatic, and that narrative seems to be the one that folks in the hockey universe are clinging to.

Staying with Boston will be a much tougher task, but the Islanders may have the right make-up to stick with the B's.

The Perfection Line is an absolute nightmare to play against, but the Islanders have one of the NHL's best shutdown pairings in Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech, plus they don't have an easy forward line to play against.

With a strong spine and plenty of well-drilled, defensively-responsible forwards, the Islanders are not an easy puzzle for any team to figure out. Just expecting Boston's top six to dominate from puck drop to the final whistle underrates one of New York's biggest strengths.

Islanders vs. Bruins Best Bet

Just like in any betting situation the numbers need to do most of the work.

However, when you're talking about a best-of-seven series in a sport as chaotically random as hockey, there is an argument to be made that a team's statistical profile becomes less important.

Over the course of a regular season, the metrics will usually tell you what you need to know about teams. Are they legitimately good? Are they a paper tiger? How do they get results? Are their results actually indicative of how good/bad they are playing? In most cases, the cream rises to — or at least close to — the top during the season. But in a seven-game series, the "better team" doesn't always win. There is no jury standing that decides who gets to move on to the next round after each series.

That's why betting on playoff hockey is so much fun. You can take a step back and do a little bit of old-fashioned handicapping. Because when you're talking about two teams racing to four wins, it does behoove you to, at the very least, consider the intangibles and the randomness. The questions now become, is the favorite good enough to overcome bad bounces or a cold streak? Does the underdog need to catch every break to just have a chance?

For all of their flaws, the Islanders have found a way to come up big when the going gets tough under head coach Barry Trotz. The Isles have now won four of their six best-of-seven series under Trotz, and they've been the underdog in nearly every one. It's no secret that the betting market, modelers and fans have a tough time figuring out how the Islanders achieve success, but that doesn't mean their achievements should just be chalked up to witchcraft.

There was a time not too long ago that the Isles were considered a Stanley Cup contender. Things have certainly changed since then, but this is still a very solid team that has also shown that it can punch above its weight by winning in important moments.

Did the Islanders steal a game against Pittsburgh? They sure did. But that is not a new phenomenon in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There are plenty of tremendous seasons on the cutting room floor of the NHL postseason, and the Islanders seem to have mastered the act of cutting promising campaigns short.

Of course, this series will require the Islanders to step up one class further as they take on a legitimate heavyweight with very few weaknesses. The Bruins are certainly deserving to be decent favorites in this matchup, but as is often the case in betting, when everybody flocks to one side of a matchup, there tends to be some betting value on the other side. That isn't to say that you should just bet against the herd every single time, but it does mean that you may be swallowing a pretty hefty price if you decide to go with the flow.

And in this case, I think the fact that everyone in the hockey world will be picking the Bruins will likely create some value on the Islanders, who are not some plucky upstart but rather a solid team that has made a habit of proving pundits, fans and bookmakers wrong in the past.

I think there are legitimate reasons to believe the Islanders have more than a 35.7% chance of winning the series and better than a 40.3% chance of taking Game 1. While I do think it's likely that the Bruins continue to take money, which should drive up the price on the Islanders even further, I already think the Isles are in range for a bet. I like them at +170 or better on the series moneyline and +140 or better on Saturday night.

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