So much for the Eastern Conference Finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs being a free flowing affair with all the bitterness which broke out almost immediately in the series in Friday’s Game 1.
The opening game seemed to have everything set up in Pittsburgh’s favor, being at home, goalie Ben Bishop getting hurt and having to leave the contest and talented, but little used Andrei Vasilevskiy taking his place in the Tampa Bay goal.
Pittsburgh closed as -185 money line favorites in the opening game and it was expected they would lifted higher for Game 2 and they certainly have with the NHL odds at BetDSI at -212 with total of 5.
Tampa Bay officials are being coy, leaving open the possibility Ben Bishop could return, but if you saw the injury and though there was no structural damage, Andrei Vasilevskiy will be between the pipes. The 21-year old goaltender has exceptional ability and a real calmness to his game, which allowed him to make saves on 24 of the 25 shots he faced. Having won Game 1, the Lightning having a slightly more conservative game plan would make sense to protect their netminder and provide as much help as possible for him.
As Tampa Bay has shown throughout the playoff, give one or two of their forwards open ice, they will score and that is exactly what happened in Game 1. Pittsburgh will no doubt make some adjustments, but with Matt Murray conceivably looking more vulnerable in goal, the Lightning will test him.
Sunday’s practice session saw coach Mike Sullivan wanting more offensive production. Despite 35 shots, Pittsburgh only scored once, thus Sullivan has changed players around on his Top 3 lines looking to create situations where they can get closer to the opposing goal and have it be where Vasilevskiy has to make much tougher saves. This was something I noticed right away before Bishop was hurt, the Penguins were controlling the action and had shots on net, but it was superficial, as nothing really was hard for Bishop.
Defensively, the Pens had numerous breakdowns. Though Tampa Bay made several outstanding two line passes out of their zone, Pittsburgh defenders were out of position, which gave the Lightning odd man rushes. Also, no real reports coming out about concerns about goalie Matt Murray, but that does not change the fact he’s allowed three goals each in the past three contests.
How Does Total Shape Up?
While there was quite a bit of chippiness to start the festivities, it certainly did not serve Pittsburgh well and I expect them to focus on playing their game. Dating back to 19 years, the second game of conference finals are notorious for higher scores with the OVER 27-11. Tampa Bay clearly fits this mold as they are 12-3 OVER in any Game 2 playoff series and are 17-6 OVER after three consecutive Under’s.
Pittsburgh also matches the criteria and is 18-6 OVER at home game when the total is five or less and is 10-3 OVER on home ice after playing a game where four or fewer total goals were scored this season.
What to Expect and Winner
Pittsburgh remains the favorite to win the Stanley Cup, but realistically has to win this contest if this dream is to remain true. The Penguins have the firepower and needs to add the resolve and though for NHL picks this is hefty price, it is the right choice along with the OVER.
Free Pick – Pittsburgh Wins and Over
Doug Upstone wrote this for www.sportsbookreview.com