NHL Daily Picks (Tuesday, May 18): Our Best Bets for Islanders vs. Penguins, Panthers vs. Lightning & Wild vs. Golden Knights
Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Marc-Andre Fleury
The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs have been an electric factory. We've already seen a couple of big upsets, some dynamite performances from goaltenders and plenty of overtime. And the best part is that the party just got started.
Check out our favorite bets for Tuesday's postseason action:
- New York Islanders (+114) at Pittsburgh Penguins (-132), 7:30 p.m. ET
- Tampa Bay Lightning (-129) at Florida Panthers (+112), 8 p.m. ET
- Minnesota Wild (+140) at Vegas Golden Knights (-165), 10 p.m. ET
Mike Ianniello: Pittsburgh Penguins (-130) vs. New York Islanders
Puck Drop: 7:30 p.m. ET
The New York Islanders came away with a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 1 thanks to a pair of goals by Kyle Palmieri. Despite the Penguins loss, MoneyPuck.com gave them a 63.7% advantage on their “Deserve To Win O’Meter”.
Pittsburgh had a 2.62 to 1.77 expected goals differential at 5-on-5 and had an 11-6 advantage in terms of high-danger scoring chances at even strength.
The Penguins top unit of Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust was dominant against the Islanders, skating to a 68.6% expected goals rate, and the trio of Brandon Tanev, Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese was also fantastic, playing to 63.2% expected goals rate. All three of the Penguins defensive pairings were above 54% , with Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin over 62%.
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.
So what was the difference? Goaltending. Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry had a -1.91 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx), essentially meaning the Islanders scored two goals that are not expected to typically go in. The Isles must have seen something on video of Jarry, as all four of their goals beat the Pens netminder to his glove side.
In 12 losses this season, Jarry bounced back to earn the win in his next start in eight times. The Penguins largely outplayed the Islanders, and I trust them to get better goaltending in Game 2 and come away with the victory.
Game 2 will also coincide with the loosening of COVID restrictions in Pennsylvania. The Penguins were at 25% capacity of PPG Paints Arena for Game 1, but will be allowed to increase to 50% capacity for Game 2.
With twice as many screaming yinzers in attendance, back Pittsburgh to even the series on Tuesday.
Matt Russell: New York Islanders Live Moneyline vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Puck Drop: 7:30 p.m. ET
Two years ago, I bet on the Islanders to beat the Penguins in the series and Game 1. The Isles scored a 4-3 win in overtime of Game 1, and instead of backing the Islanders again in Game 2, I passed. The thinking was, that as much as I felt I had an edge on the Islanders, the tightly played first game was enough to make me believe that winning my Isles series bet would be a long, drawn-out effort. It was not. While the Game 2 victory, and the subsequent wins in Games 3 and 4 were great for my series bet, I didn’t take advantage of that edge for all four wins.
Two years later, I bet on the Islanders to beat the Penguins in the series and Game 1. The Isles scored a 4-3 win in overtime of Game 1, and instead of backing the Islanders again in Game 2 BEFORE the puck drops, I’ll be looking to see how the first period plays out. Two years ago, the first period of game two was scoreless, and the Penguins actually scored first, though never again, in a 3-1 loss. That game was in New York, so the Pens didn’t have the push from the home crowd that I’m expecting for them this time around. PPG Paints Arena will see an increase in attendance, and I expect the house that Mario and Sid built to be rocking early.
If the Islanders can survive that initial push, tied, or down just one goal after the first period, I’ll take a shot with them, as I still feel they’re the better team, particularly in their own zone and especially in net. Whether Semyon Varlamov starts or not, the Penguins faith in their goaltender, Tristan Jarry has to be… jarred.
If the offense can’t make up for his potential shortcomings when the Islanders should have some trouble hearing themselves think, then the Islanders in-game will be worth a look.
Michael Leboff: Tampa Bay Lightning (-129) vs. Florida Panthers
Puck Drop: 8 p.m. ET
Sunday night's tilt between the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning was one of the most exhilarating games you'll ever see. Both teams were flying from the jump and never slowed down. In the end it was the Bolts who won, 5-4, but the Panthers gave them everything they could handle. After the game everybody on HockeyTwitter was clamoring for six more games of the first-ever Sunshine Showdown Playoff Edition.
There were a lot of encouraging signs for the Cats, especially at 5-on-5. Florida outscored Tampa, 3-1, at even strength but the Lightning power play converted three times and they added a short-handed goal, to boot. With Nikita Kucherov (2 G, 1 A) back in the fold, the Bolts' PP looked unbelievable and they had plenty of opportunities thanks to the bats**t nature of the game.
The Panthers will need to keep the game on script to have a chance in Game 2 as there are few teams that can hang with the Lightning if special teams become the story. It's a different story at 5-on-5 as the Panthers finished with the fifth-best goal differential and third-best expected goal rate at even strength.
That said, I think this is a tough matchup for Florida, a team that relies on its offense to drive the bus. The Panthers finished fourth in the NHL in goals per game and fifth in expected goals for per 60 minutes, but will take on a defense that allowed 2.59 goals per game (sixth) and 2.05 expected goals per hour at 5-on-5 (sixth) this season. In addition to having a stingy defense, the Lightning also have the best goalie in the NHL behind them.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is the A-Side in this goaltending matchup no matter what, but if Joel Quenneville decides to go back to Sergei Bobrovsky in Game 2 that edge becomes even more exaggerated. Bobrovsky wasn't terrible in Game 1 and made some big stops, but he still allowed five goals on 2.67 xG. Bobrovsky finished the season with a -10.65 GSAx, while Vasilevskiy was near the top of the league in just about every metric.
Update: The Panthers will start Chris Driedger in goal for Game 2. Driedger finished the season with a +7.03 GSAx in 23 appearances for Florida, meaning he was about 18 goals better than Bobrovsky during the regular season. While Driedger is the better option for Florida and makes a bet on Tampa a little less appetizing, the line has come down too much on the lineup news.
With Driedger in goal, I'd bet Tampa to -120.
Michael Leboff: Minnesota Wild (+140) vs. Vegas Golden Knights
The Stanley Cup Playoffs test you in a lot of ways as a bettor. Bankroll management, self-control and not getting swept up in the hype are all very important if you are looking to set yourself up for success over the two-month grind. One of the best ways to do that is to drown out the noise from the previous game. For instance, the narrative after the series-opener between Vegas and Minnesota is that the Wild “stole” the victory. I disagree with that notion.
Sure, Minnesota was outshot by a wide margin, especially in the first period, but the Wild are never really fussed about giving up a high volume of shots. During the regular season Minnesota had a 46.8% shot attempt share, but a 52.5% expected goals rate at 5-on-5. That tells you the Wild were regularly out-attempted at even strength, but they were generating the lion’s share of quality scoring chances. This trend held true in Game 1.
While Vegas attempted 21 more shots, the expected goals were basically dead even, which tells you that Minnesota’s quality-over-quantity approach was working.
I thought the Wild were a good bet in Game 1 at +138. Minnesota’s 5-on-5 defense always makes it an appealing bet as an underdog and that was especially true with Pacioretty out for the Knights. The Wild are one of the league’s best teams at preventing high-danger opportunities so the Knights will need to make good on the ones they create. Losing Pacioretty — or even the fact that he’s not 100% — dings them there.
Though we don’t know whether Pacioretty will play on Tuesday, I’m assuming he will be in for the Knights. Even so, I see very little value backing Vegas at the current price. This number would have to move quite a bit for me to start to get interested in backing Vegas in Game 2. Same goes for betting the Knights to win the series at -108.
Admittedly, Vegas is the better team in this contest, but the prices are still out of whack in a matchup that is closer than it appears on paper and one that has been tilted towards Minnesota all season.
The Wild have been betting darlings this whole season so it wouldn’t surprise me if this number stays put or even drops, but I’m assuming that most bettors will flock to the Knights due to the “must-win” effect. I think Minnesota is already worth a bet at the current number, but I’m going to keep my eye on this one and see if this price ticks up if/when we get word on Pacioretty.
Pete Truszkowski: Golden Knights-Wild Under 5.5 Goals (-135)
Puck Drop: 10 p.m. ET
The Minnesota Wild and Vegas Golden Knights needed overtime to find a goal on Sunday. While we won’t see 1-0 games all series long, I do think goals will be at a premium in this series.
The most eye-popping number from Sunday’s game is Cam Talbot’s 42-save shutout. Talbot was particularly strong in the first period as he turned aside all 19 shots from the Golden Knights. However, when it comes to 42-save shutouts, this was about as easy as they come.
The Wild have made a habit of limiting the quality of their opponents chances this season without much concern for the quantity. Vegas outshot them 42-30 and out-attempted them 62-41. Despite this, the scoring chances were just 22-21 and the high-danger chances were even at nine apiece.
Minnesota had the third-highest expected save percentage during the regular season, which means they often make life easy on their netminder. Talbot is more than capable enough to thrive in this environment.
While it wasn’t an issue this past season, over the past few years the Vegas Golden Knights have been the victims of a low shooting percentage. A part of this could be chalked up to bad luck, but it also could be the result of a lack of high-end elite talent. Max Pacioretty missed game one and he’s a game-time-decision for Game 2. Pacioretty is Vegas’ best pure scorer on a team that doesn’t have many. Game 1 had to give the Knights flashbacks to their run in The Bubble last season in terms of not being able to bury the puck.
Marc-Andre Fleury was also incredible in Game 1, stopping 29 of 30 shots. Fleury has been one of the best stories in the NHL in 2021, posting a +17.9 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) after a dismal 2019/20 campaign.
When you look at Fleury’s season combined with Minnesota’s defensive prowess, it shouldn't have been a huge surprise that Game 1 was a low-scoring affair. I expect to see the Wild continue to allow the Golden Knights to play with the puck, but limit the quality of their chances. For that reason, I see value on the Under 5.5 in Game 2.