The second round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs continues tonight, with Game 2 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes.
Let's get to it.
Tampa Bay Lightning (-110) @ Carolina Hurricanes (-110) — Total: 5.5
The first playoff battle between these two forces of nature (pun intended) was ... kind of uneventful. The first goal of the game came in the second period, and the final two tallies arrived in the third. No empty netter. No wild one-shotters or shorthanded dunks. Just two teams playing stingy offense and two elite goaltenders absolutely shining, each stopping 28 or more shots.
I guess the common misconception with these two teams is that they're juggernaut squads capable of dropping a 5 or 6 or 7-burger on any opponent at any time. And don't get me wrong, they are, but it may come as a surprise that both teams prefer a stifling style that paid off time and time again during the regular season; the Lightning and Hurricanes were sixth and fourth overall in total team defense, respectively.
What could be more surprising than that is seeing Carolina lose at home in Game 1. Before this loss, the Hurricanes hadn't been defeated at the PNC Arena since May 6, and before that, they hadn't lost there since April 12 (11 total home games). You can imagine they're probably fuming in the manner they lost Game 1, as well. The Hurricanes outshot the Lightning, 38-to-30, but just couldn't get anything past the hulking Andrei Vasilevskiy after Jake Bean's equalizing goal in the third period.
Then they had to watch Barclay Goodrow sneak what seemed like an easily blockable shot past Alex Nedeljkovic into the net — the eventual game-winner.
This game looked like it was headed straight to overtime — a place the Hurricanes are very familiar with after their first-round series against the Predators — but instead, they left their home ice with a bad taste in their mouths.
Is it blasphemy to say the Lightning got lucky in Game 1?
At the very least, one has to admit the Hurricanes were unlucky, especially if you just watch that Goodrow goal:
That's not ideal. Nedeljkovic, while young, has been excellent all season and in the playoffs, so you would expect that he blocks or at least deflects that shot nine out of 10 times.
Instead, one nutmeg later, and the Lightning hold a 1-0 series lead.
It's never fun to bet against the defending champions, not with all the talent and quick-strike ability on offense and Vasilevskiy in net. But I also won't bet against the Hurricanes losing two in a row at home, not with how absolutely dominant they've been there, and hey — if Nedeljkovic blocks that shot in the third period, we could be talking about a different Game 1 result. The even money-line odds for this game seem to reflect that the Hurricanes should probably be favored, but the Lightning are just too good to be a dog coming off a tough Game 1 W.
I also like the UNDER here. Both teams look set for a grueling, tight series, with maybe one, or at most two, shootouts thrown in. In fact, only one game in their last 10 head-to-head matchups has cashed the OVER. This eye-opening trend stems from the elite goaltending and penalty kill on both sides. While the Hurricanes have gotten in trouble with penalties taken recently, they are more than well-equipped to shut down the opposing man-advantage. And you can imagine how motivated they'll be to clean up their play and shore up any holes after Game 1's result.
All that said, I've said it before in this space and I'll say it again: I'm an advocate of variance. Eventually, the Hurricanes and Lightning will play a game that ends something like 6-5.
Let's just hope that doesn't happen in Game 2 (and if Game 2 does hit the UNDER *fingers crossed*, you can be sure I'll be looking for that OVER come Game 3).
Pick(s): Carolina Hurricanes ML (-110), UNDER 5.5 (-110)