The Tampa Bay Lightning made quick work of the Florida Panthers in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a long, grueling series against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round. It appears the Lightning are in store for another long one after winning Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference Final over the New York Rangers.
The Lighting were the favorites to win Game 4 and are now guaranteed at least two more games.
Home ice has been the key in the series with each team holding serve and winning its home games. With the Rangers having the slight edge in regular-season success, they have home ice advantage for the series. Tampa Bay is going to have to win at least one game on the road if it wants to make it to its third consecutive Stanley Cup Final.
Despite being on the road, Tampa Bay is once again favored in this game at odds of -130. Remember, Florida sports betting is currently not legal.
There are many options for what’s next in Florida sports betting including appeals (already underway), a new compact (unlikely for now) and legislation (not this year). Sports betting in Florida does not appear to be imminent.
The winner of the Lightning-Rangers series will play Stanley Cup favorite Colorado Avalanche. Colorado is resting after sweeping the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final.
Lightning-Rangers Series Schedule
- Game 1, June 1: Rangers 6, Lightning 2.
- Game 2, June 3: Rangers 3, Lightning 2.
- Game 3, June 5: Lightning 3, Rangers 2.
- Game 4, June 7: Lightning 4, Rangers 1 (Series tied at 2).
- Game 5: Thursday, 8 p.m. at New York.
- Game 6: June 11, 8 p.m. at Tampa Bay.
- Game 7: June 14, 8 p.m. at New York (if necessary).
Why the Lightning are Favored
There are many reasons for the Lightning to be installed as favorites in this matchup, including the momentum that comes with two straight playoffs victories. Tampa Bay is also the more-rested and healthy team after an eight-day layoff after sweeping the Panthers in Round 2.
New York’s schedule has been quite the opposite, with two straight seven-game series and only one day of rest after beating the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round. Injuries, always a huge factor in the postseason, are piling up for New York, most notably with second-line center Ryan Strome likely to miss his second consecutive game.
The fatigue of the Rangers seemed evident in Game 4 and coincided with the Lightning finding their stride after a slow start to the series partly caused by rust from the long layoff.
Updated Stanley Cup Odds
Lightning Slowed Game 4 Down
The most promising sign for Tampa Bay in Game 4 was that it was finally able to control the pace and tempo of the game. The Bolts are talented enough to play any style, but slowing the game down and taking the Rangers out of their preferred fast-paced, back-and-forth type of hockey was a must.
With Vezina and Hart Trophy candidate Igor Shesterkin in net for New York the Lightning know they need to focus more on getting quality chances instead of simply being happy with a high quantity of shots on goal.
Helping control the pace of the game for the Lightning was their top line, and most importantly winger Ondrej Palat. He had a three-point performance including an excellent heads-up pass to spring Nikita Kucherov on a breakaway. This came one game after his last-minute, game-winning goal in Game 3 that helped Tampa Bay even the series.
The Palat-Kucherov-Steven Stamkos line was excellent in the two home games and will be counted on to bring that game on the road. Brayden Point is highly unlikely to play as he is still out with injury, but technically hasn’t been ruled out of the game. Without him, Anthony Cirelli will continue to be counted on for big minutes and slumping Alex Killorn needs to break out soon and provide some secondary scoring for Tampa Bay.
Tampa Still Has Vasilevskiy
Even if the switch to New York hurts the Bolts and they come out with a poor performance, they still have all-world netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy to rely on. He continued his strong play, more than making up for a Game 1 dud with a 34-save performance in Game 4.
As one of few goalies in the league who can go toe-to-toe with Shesterkin, Vasilevskiy will likely be the key to the series for Tampa Bay. With both goalies playing well the under would usually be in play, but oddsmakers have taken notice and set the line at a low 5.5 number, so taking the +120 odds on the over still appears to be the best value. The Lightning are -130 to win on the moneyline.