Stars vs. Lightning Betting Picks: Our 3 Best Bets for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final
Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images. Pictured: Anton Khudobin
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars are the last two teams remaining in the NHL Bubble and will play for the right to hoist the Stanley Cup.
The Lightning outlasted three of the NHL’s toughest defensive units to get to the Stanley Cup Final where another one of the league’s stingiest units awaits them.
The Stars, on the other hand, upset two of the NHL’s premier offenses to get to this point. They’ll need to add arguably the league’s best attack to that list if they want to complete their magical run.
Tampa Bay is a -182 favorite over Dallas in the Stanley Cup Final, meaning the Bolts have a 62.7% chance of hoisting Lord Stanley when all is said and done.
Here are our favorite bets for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final:
Michael Leboff: Stars +145 or better
- Puck Drop: 7:30 p.m. ET
Man, it would be nice to be able to just bet the Tampa Bay Lightning and go about my day. Unfortunately, that’s not how betting works. Everything comes down to price when punting and I doubt that the odds on the Bolts will get to a point where I think they’d be worth laying the wood (I’d play Tampa at -140 or cheaper).
An important thing to remember about the Stanley Cup Final is that both of these teams are good. One is better, sure, but the Stars are a very tricky team to beat and they won’t be given much of a chance to win this series by anybody. That narrative should help to create value.
There’s no beating around the bush here. The path to victory for the Stars is largely dependent on getting bounces and Khudobin continuing to dance to the music.
A good bounce, a power play goal or a huge save can flip a game on a moment’s notice. It’s not fun betting on those types of breaks to go your way, but the hard truth of betting on the NHL, if you’re going to do it regularly, is that you’ll likely be betting a lot of underdogs.
Considering that the Stars closed at +148 in their last game against the Golden Knights, who I think are a weaker team compared to the Lightning, I think this line should move towards Tampa before puck drop.
That being the case, I’m happy to wait out the market and hope to get Dallas at +145 or better.
Sam Hitchcock: Under 5 (+117)
- Odds available at DraftKings [Bet Now]
Allow me to spoil the ending. At +117 on DraftKings, under five total goals for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final is a wise bet.
The first piece of evidence I’d like to submit is that, among goaltenders who played more than four games during this postseason, the top two in Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) are the Dallas Stars’ Anton Khudobin and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. Given the speed both teams bring to their gaps, goals will be hard to come by.
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.
Perhaps the more interesting way to think about the under for Game 1 is to contemplate what would need to happen for these two teams to accumulate over five goals. Like the unveiling of a new, exciting idea, the viability of a bet should be able to weather skepticism. The interrogation proceeds!
During the playoffs, the Lightning are first in expected goals against per 60 minutes, but even a defense as smothering as theirs has weaknesses. Unlike the New York Islanders, the Stars have a very active defensive group that will attempt to force the Lightning into switches in the Bolts’ defensive zone. In the Vegas series, 33% of the Stars’ goals came off the man advantage. Tampa Bay, a habitually undisciplined team, could allow more goals than anticipated because of wanton passion.
However, the Lightning-Islanders Game 6 provides a template for how Tampa Bay wants to pierce the Stars’ bulwark. By utilizing their third forward at the point and swinging the puck around the boards to move it from one side of the ice to the other, the Lightning will try to tempt the Stars to meet them on the perimeter.
By forcing the Stars to the fringes, the Lightning can open up room in the middle. That is one way to subvert the Stars’ shot-blocking acumen. The other is the same way Anthony Cirelli scored in Game 6 to advance Tampa Bay to the final. Use the area below the goal line as a mechanism for bypassing layers of bodies and as a playmaking lever.
Like a white paper that solves an existential crisis, theory is easy to postulate but hard to implement. The reality is that both teams will probably struggle to score and a bet on the under passes scrutiny.
Pete Truszkowski: Andrei Vasilevskiy to win the Conn Smythe (+1000)
- Odds available at DraftKings [Bet Now]
On a team with Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is often the forgotten man. His odds to win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP reflect that.
Vasilevskiy has started all 19 games the Lightning have played in this bubble. Backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney has played a grand total of zero minutes in these playoffs. Despite the full workload, Vasilevskiy has posted a .931 save percentage and is giving up only 1.82 goals per game.
Vasilevskiy is second in these playoffs amongst all goalies in terms of Goals Saved Above Average and he’s third in GSAx. Despite playing on an extremely talented team that limits their opponents offensive chances, Vasilevskiy has still been a brick wall in between the pipes.
In order to handicap an award like this, you have to examine the competition. The Lightning are the favorites and I think the -182 odds are just about right, so it’s likely that a Lightning player will be named the Playoff MVP.
Brayden Point is the favorite to win the Conn Smythe at +150. However, it’s important to note that Point missed two of the last four games of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Point has been terrific in these playoffs, but if he misses more games or if his injury hampers his performance, recency bias will make it tough for him to win the award.
I also worry about Nikita Kucherov and Point splitting votes, as both are members of the same line on the same team and have nearly identical production.
The other name to monitor is Victor Hedman. If I had to pick a Conn Smythe winner, I would probably pick Hedman. However, there’s no value at his current +200 price.
However, only four defensemen have won the Conn Smythe since 1994. It’s probably the least sexy position in the sport. Hedman’s offensive performance might prevent him from sneaking under the radar, but the value isn’t there at his current price.
I expect a low-scoring series in general, which means Vasilevskiy’s numbers should continue to sparkle. I expect the Lightning to win the Cup.
At 10-1, I think taking a goalie with a save percentage higher than .930 is a worthwhile bet.
He certainly has a higher chance of winning the Conn Smythe than the 9.1% implied by this line.