Our world class NHL handicapping professional breaks down the Eastern Conference Finals series between Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. Learn what the profitable NHL picks are for this series.
Eastern Conference Finals Preview
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins will meet in the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals. The series is set to begin on Friday in Pittsburgh. The Penguins will have home ice advantage by virtue of their 104-97 regular season point advantage over Tampa Bay. Current NHL odds found at Bookmaker has Pittsburgh -200 and Tampa Bay +170 to win the series.
Regular Season Matchups
These clubs met three times during regular season action, and Tampa Bay won on each occasion. However, Pittsburgh did hold a substantial territorial edge during those games, evidenced by a cumulative 109-74 shots on goal advantage. All three of those encounters went over the total, and there was a combined average of 8.0 goals scored per game.
Early Rounds Recap
Tampa Bay has breezed through their first two playoff series, eliminating both Detroit and the New York Islanders in exactly five games. They were 5-1 at home and 3-1 on the road. Tampa went 4-3-3 under the total during the first two rounds.
Pittsburgh had to play one more game than Tampa Bay to reach this point, but you can certainly make a strong case their plight to do so was a much tougher task, and a bit more impressive. For starters, they easily disposed of a very good New York Rangers team in five games. That's the same Rangers team that had made two consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances, and had amassed 101 regular season points. Up next was the NHL President's Trophy winning Washington Capitals. Washington accumulated a massive 117 points during regular season play, and Pittsburgh eliminated them in six games. The Penguins have gone 5-1 at home and 3-2 on the road during these 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Ben Bishop has started in all ten playoff games for Tampa Bay. Bishop posted a sparkling .937 save percentage, and also earned two shutouts during those outings. Bishop made two starts versus Pittsburgh this season, and compiled a 2.50 GAA in addition to a stellar .928 save percentage.
It's seems like a distant memory, but Jeff Zatkoff actually started the first two games of the Rangers series for Pittsburgh. After the Penguins suffered a 4-2 home loss during Game 2 of that series, rookie Matt Murray was inserted for Game 3, and has been the starter ever since. Murray has gone 7-2 in nine playoff starts with a shining .935 save percentage. Pittsburgh can also take solace knowing that Marc-Andre Fleury is waiting in the wings as a very viable security blanket. The veteran Fleury made 58 starts during regular season play, and was sidelined by a concussion late in the year. He has been recently cleared to play, and has since served in a backup capacity. The Penguins have continued to go with Murray, and the youngster has seized the opportunity while showing no signs of wilting due to playoff pressure.
Playoffs Special Teams Play
Tampa Bay has gone a less than inspiring 7-42 (16.7%) on the power play during the postseason. They've certainly missed their sidelined star center Steven Stamkos (blood clot) on its power play. On the other hand, their penalty killing has been absolutely magnificent. The Lightning have held its playoff opponents to a paltry 5-43 (11.6%) on their man advantage opportunities.
Pittsburgh has converted on a very good 11-40 (27.5%) on the power play during postseason action. They've also been rock solid in limiting opponents to a just 7-42 (16.7%) on their power play chances. Ironically, those are the exact power play numbers for Tampa Bay thus far in these 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Can Lightning Strike Twice?
By not having J.T. Brown, Anton Stralman, and Steven Stamkos available, it seemed unlikely that Tampa Bay was capable of a deep postseason run like they accomplished a season ago. The Lightning reached the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals where they fell in six games to an extremely experienced Chicago Blackhawks club. Lo and behold, they're four wins away from reaching that destiny for the second consecutive year.
Pittsburgh enters the Eastern Conference Finals by having gone a sizzling 33-12 over its last 45 games. What's even more impressive is the fact that Pittsburgh has gone a perfect 15-0 during its last fifteen games following a loss. It's impossible to lose a playoff series when holding home ice advantage, unless you lose two consecutive games at some point. Incredibly, Pittsburgh hasn't loss two straight since 1/15/2016 or close to four months.
Final Take and Pick
I do like Pittsburgh in this series, and that's despite a preseason bet I made on Tampa Bay to win the Stanley Cup. I hedged against Tampa in the Islanders series, and am go to do so once again versus Pittsburgh. But I've already assured myself of a profit in those regards no matter what the outcome. If you've been following me for any length of time, then you know I would never advise making a money line bet of -200. My advice for readers is to bet on Pittsburgh to win in an exact amount of games. Bookmaker.com indicates that Pittsburgh is at 7-2 odds to win in six, and 3-1 if it takes seven games.
My suggestion for your NHL picks is to make two equal wagers on Pittsburgh to win in six (7-2), and also seven games (3-1).