The Tampa Bay Lightning have been sitting and waiting for their Eastern Conference Final opponent since sweeping the Florida Panthers on May 23, giving them nine days off between games.
Their opponent took a much different route in their second-round matchup as the New York Rangers only get one day off after finishing off the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 of their second-round series on Monday night.
Tampa Bay is the road team to open the series after finishing the regular season with the same points as the Rangers, but the Lightning lost the season series to New York, failing to even get a win.
Despite this, the Lightning are heavily favored to win this series at odds of -185 because of having been rested and their stature as back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. The Rangers can be bet at odds of +150 at BetMGM to win the series. Florida sports betting currently is not legal after a federal court shut it down late last year.
Tampa Bay’s biggest challenge came in the first round, but the Lightning overcame a slow start from goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and then rode him to consecutive victories in Games 6 and 7 to close out the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Clearly back in form, Vasilevskiy dominated the series against Florida in the second round with a save percentage over .980 including a massive shutout win in the clinching Game 4, the first time all season the Panthers were shut out.
Lightning-Rangers Series Schedule
- Game 1: Wednesday, 8 p.m. at New York.
- Game 2: Friday, 8 p.m. at New York.
- Game 3: Sunday, 3 p.m. at Tampa Bay.
- Game 4: June 7, 8 p.m. at Tampa Bay.
- Game 5: June 9, 8 p.m. at New York (if necessary).
- Game 6: June 11, 8 p.m. at Tampa Bay (if necessary).
- Game 7: TBD at New York (if necessary).
Strength vs. Strength in Goal
Vasilevskiy meets a fellow Russian standout in the opposing crease — Igor Shesterkin. Similarly to Vasilevskiy, Shesterkin had some brief struggles in the first round but more than made up for it with his second-round performance, leading the Rangers to victory. Beating Shesterkin will be the key for Tampa Bay if it hopes to win this series.
The job of beating Shesterkin will fall on the shoulder of Nikita Kucherov, who leads the Lightning with 15 points in 11 playoff games. One of the best playoff scorers in recent memory, Kucherov headlines this offense with a deft passing touch and a wicked shot.
Joining Kucherov is captain Steven Stamkos, who is coming off a career-best offensive season, and Victor Hedman, a point-per-game threat on the back end. The most concerning issue facing the Bolts is the health of Brayden Point, who has led the NHL in goals in each of the past two postseasons. It is possible that he makes his return in this series but that is uncertain.
Updated Stanley Cup Odds
Rangers PP is Lethal
Tampa Bay was one of the league’s most-penalized teams in the regular season and will need to shore up its discipline, especially after watching what the Rangers did against the Canes’ strong PK group.
After watching the Lightning dismantle the President’s Trophy-winning Panthers in the second round, it’s hard not to think that their toughest battle was their opening round against Toronto. After managing to beat the Leafs, the Lightning have appeared unstoppable and it will take a herculean effort from Shesterkin to slow this team down.
The matchup between him and Vasilevskiy is clearly the headline story of this series much like the McDavid/MacKinnon matchup in the Western Conference Final and when all is said and done will likely be what decides this matchup.
How to Bet the Series
The playoff history of the Lightning can’t be ignored here, but the plus money on the Rangers to win the series against a team it went undefeated against in the regular season will be a temptation for Florida bettors.
Just like the previous series New York was involved in, the most logical nightly play will be to take the under (5.5) as these teams are not allowing many goals in the playoffs.
Look for the Rangers to have life as an underdog in a low-scoring series. If Tampa Bay is to take advantage of a weary Rangers team, it can be bet at -130 to win Game 1, a much more logical bet to make than to bet the Lightning to win the series.