Game 1 between the Central Division’s best squares off Sunday. The one-seed Carolina Hurricanes host the defending Stanley Cup Champions, Tampa Bay Lightning in a true pick’em per the NHL’s Vegas odds with both teams lined at -110 with the sportsbook.
Although Carolina is the top seed, the Hurricanes won the same amount of games as the Lightning (36) and finished just five points apart. The Hurricanes edged the season series 4-3-1 with three wins coming at home. And while they have home-ice advantage, Carolina is +115 to win the series while Tampa Bay is favored at -135.
Lightning: Full Power
What rust? Nikita Kucherov returned to the Tampa Bay Lightning and powered the team past the Florida Panthers with three goals and 11 points in six games. He kicked off the series with a pair of goals as he combined with his best buds Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos (also back from injury) to revitalize Tampa’s power play.
The 2019 Hart Trophy winner gives the Lightning the go-to scorer they’ve been lacking all season. But even without him, the Lightning finished tied for the ninth-most goals and ninth in power-play percent (PP%).
The Lightning edged the Panthers thanks to the extra man advantage. They scored one-third of their 24 goals from the PP. With Kucherov, the Lightning’s offense significantly improved as they beat the Panthers who they struggled against in the regular season. They’ll look to have similar improvements against the Hurricanes.
Hurricanes: The People’s Team?
If your hockey team has been eliminated, there are few remaining teams that are as charismatic as the Carolina Hurricanes. How can you not cheer for this team? They’re young, exciting, and are damn good at hockey making them a fine bet as either a favorite or underdog.
the humanity of the post-game Brind'Amour Happy Birthday video, the playful twitter account with a little bite & the fact they're damn good on the ice, if I was new to hockey, I'm pretty sure I'd gravitate to the Carolina Hurricanes pretty quickly
— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) May 28, 2021
It may have taken Carolina six games and an extra six periods to get rid of the undying Predators, but they thoroughly dominated that game. Juuse Saros had to stand on his head for the entire series. This gruelling saga could only improve the Canes’ mettle and they’ll need it against Tampa.
Carolina finished the season leading the division in 5-on-5 corsi for percent (CF%), PP%, and shots. True to their name, the Hurricanes overwhelm opposition with their speed and skill and can skate circles around the opposition. However, they’ll need to improve on their finishing if they hope to move past Tampa.
Pick: First To Finish
The Carolina Hurricanes did edge the Tampa Bay Lightning this season but the Lightning were playing short handed for the whole series. But going back to the last two seasons, Carolina has a 2-4-0 record against them including losing all three meetings in 2018-19 when Tampa was eviscerating everyone.
Carolina didn’t have Alex Nedeljkovic in net yet and although he did look a bit shaky against the Predators, he’s been an answer in goal for them. However, Andrei Vasilevskiy has a 93.4 save percent (SV%) against the Hurricanes for his career.
To compound things, Carolina’s 11.6 shooting percent (SH%) in 5-on-5 scoring chances is the second-worst in the league. Meanwhile, Tampa’s 15.2% through the past two seasons with Kucherov is second-best in the league. This disparity in goaltending and finishing is how Tampa wins this game and the series.
Pick: Tampa Bay Lightning -110
Bonus Pick: Overcharge
Carolina and Tampa averaged 4.4 goals a game through eight games this season, but the Lightning were undermanned as they got shut out in their first two games. The totals went under in six of these games.
But the scoring has picked up for both teams during these playoffs and with Tampa at full strength, expect there to be plenty of scoring.