Sunday NHL Betting Odds, Picks & Predictions: Bruins vs. Lightning Game 1 Preview (Aug. 23)

Credit:

Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Brayden Point (left) and Zdeno Chara.

  • The Lightning are a slight favorite over the Bruins in Game 1 of their second-round series.
  • Sam Hitchcock thinks Boston should actually be the slight favorite, and will gladly take the B's at -105 or better.
  • Get his full analysis for Bruins vs. Lightning below.

Bruins vs. Lightning Odds

Bruins Odds -104 [BET NOW]
Lightning Odds -112 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 5.5 (+114/-139) [BET NOW]
Time 8 p.m. ET
TV NBC

Odds as of Saturday evening and via DraftKings. Get up to a $1,000 sign-up bonus at DraftKings today or see more offers and reviews for the best online sportsbooks.


The Tampa Bay Lightning, still without Steven Stamkos, are receiving a lot of respect as they get ready to play the Boston Bruins on Sunday night. The Bolts are basking in the glow of their own personal growth narrative. Like a recent college graduate who recognizes he can no longer subsist on Chipotle and cheap beer, the Lightning have matured their style of play to meet the playoffs’ demands.

Against the Columbus Blue Jackets, their tormentors from the 2019 playoffs, they demonstrated an ability to forecheck, a skill that was absent the year before. The Lightning weaponized their speed, so they were quicker to retrieve pucks along the boards and to sustain the cycle. No longer were they manhandled in the middle of the ice, as evidenced by Anthony Cirelli’s 1-on-1 victory over David Savard to tie Game 5, 4-4.

Yet even while soaking in vibes of uplift and redemption, Tampa Bay is overpriced in Game 1 versus a Boston team that just disassembled a very good Carolina Hurricanes squad, largely without David Pastrnak in the lineup. With the Bruins at -104 on DraftKings, bettors are risking less money to wager on what is likely the better team.

Tampa Bay Lightning

At 5-on-5 in the first round, the Lightning had the best expected goals against per 60 minutes as well as the best high-danger chances against per hour. In shots against per 60 minutes, they were under 26 shots. This would suggest Boston is going to be helpless to create offense, right?

Not so fast.

The Bruins are cagey and will be eager to expose certain slow Lightning defensemen. During the regular season, blue liner Zach Bogosian had an expected goals of 41.67%. Among Tampa Bay defensemen, only Luke Schenn’s percentage was worse. Make no mistake, Boston will be looking to isolate Bogosian in open ice. The Blue Jackets tried to use indirect passes to spring their forwards on the perimeter. The logic makes sense. Bogosian is too clunky to intercept the pass and his footwork is poor enough that a lane opens up as soon as he turns and pivots.

The Bruins will surely use the indirect stretch pass, but also expect them to use the aerial pass to try to put the puck behind the lumbering Bogosian to expose his poor recovery speed. Bogosian’s stilted skating had its consequences in the first round. For example, in Game 5, Nick Foligno’s power-play goal for Columbus came off a penalty drawn on a 2-on-1 that Bogosian was too plodding to recover on.

Kevin Shattenkirk is another defenseman Boston will be primed to pick on for his skating. Shattenkirk’s assertive play to try to scoop up pucks along the perimeter when his defensive partner pinches (but can’t control the puck) can leave the underside open unless his forward teammates are there in transition defense. Against Columbus, the forwards weren’t always there in support, and Boston is a team well-equipped to take advantage of the Lightning’s execution miscues.

In the Blue Jackets series, the Lightning could get a little lost picking up Columbus skaters when they initiated a rush the other way. This is worrisome. The Bruins excel at aerial passes and can be quite cheeky with their puck movement in transition. The Lightning forwards need to be attentive to the second wave of Boston skaters and pick up the weak side.

Boston can also exploit Tampa Bay’s coverage issues. Anyone who has watched a lick of hockey knows a rush can spill over into the cycle, and the Lightning coverage can devolve into chaos once the initial salvo has been staved off. To wit, the Alexander Wennberg goal in Game 5 started with Brayden Point defusing a pass through the middle, but then the sequence went sideways. Wennberg was left wide open for a shot in the middle slot.

Andrei Vasilevskiy has been a mixed bag. Four of the eight goaltenders left in the postseason have better GSAx. He has been spectacular and unexceptional, sometimes in the same game. Against Columbus he had a 1.96 Goals Saved Above Average, which places him behind the same group of goaltenders that he is behind in GSAx. However, I think Vasilevskiy can singlehandedly win a game, and maybe even the series if the Lightning are more disciplined and limit penalties.

During the regular season, the Lightning were one of four teams that averaged four penalties per 60 minutes. It is troubling that in the Blue Jackets series the Lightning averaged four penalty kills a game. At the same time, during the regular season, the Bruins were one of two NHL teams that had a power-play percentage of 25 or higher. Without Pastrnak on the flank, Boston suffered against Carolina. But now that the sniper is back, Tampa Bay cannot afford to let the Bruins’ extremely talented power play crush pucks at Vasilevskiy.

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Boston Bruins

In a series that took five games, the Bruins posted a 1.62 expected goals against per 60 minutes, even though the Hurricanes had the second-best offense per expected goals during the regular season. The Andrei Svechnikov injury was devastating to Carolina’s scoring, but he only missed two games.

Boston has a very mobile defense and they are assiduous about taking away the middle of the ice. A vice of Tampa Bay’s Point line when facing stingy defenses is that it can to be too content to play on the perimeter. Worse yet, sometimes under pressure, Nikita Kucherov will make a deleterious decision with the puck that springs a counterattack. This isn’t a concern in the abstract; in December, Kucherov was benched in a game against Ottawa for this type of haphazard puck management.

One way to view this series is in terms of matchups. The Lightning will have the last line change in Game 1, which spotlights how their two best scoring forwards will fare against Boston’s best defensive pairing, who hermetically seal everything. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy will do everything in his power to make sure Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug are on the ice at the same time as the Point line.

Asserting dominance against Carlo and Krug is a tall task. In the 34 minutes that Carolina’s Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen played against Carlo and Krug, they were outshot 13-11. The Bruins achieved a 56.52% expected goals when their shutdown pair played against the Hurricanes’ top line.

Another matchup to consider is the Anthony Cirelli line against Boston’s Patrice Bergeron trio. Bergeron and Brad Marchand finished the series against Carolina with a 58.54% expected goals. When the duo was on the ice, they outshot Carolina by 20. But one aspect bears mentioning. In the 25 minutes David Pastrnak played with Bergeron and Marchand in the Carolina series, the production for the line was diminished — Boston had a 46.80% expected goals when these three played together and Carolina collected more shot attempts.

In Boston’s Game 5, there were glimmers of the charming, coffee-hawking, superstar scorer. Should Pastrnak be feeling better by Game 1, we know what that looks like. At 5-on-5 during the regular season, the Bergeron line was on the ice for nearly twice as many goals as their opponents scored altogether. Expected goals was a shade under 60 percent.

In addition to Pastrnak’s health being an unknown variable, so are both teams’ goaltending situations. Of the goaltenders remaining in the playoffs, Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak has the worst Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx). Tampa Bay is going to want to spray shots on Halak, take away his sight line and keep Boston hemmed in its own end.

Betting Analysis and Pick

If Stamkos were healthy, I think a very convincing case could be made for the Lightning. But without the captain, the argument can be boiled down to three questions. Can Point and Kucherov create offense against Carlo and Krug? Will the Cirelli line stall the Bergeron line? Is Vasilevskiy capable of swinging this series?

When framed that way, I like Boston’s chances. As important as the Lightning’s Yanni Gourde line was against Columbus, the Bruins will be very capable of smothering their forechecking game with their surgical breakout and heavy back pressure. For my mind, Boston being slight underdogs at -104 is a gift to bettors. Enjoy the spoils.

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