Tampa Bay to Hand Vegas 3rd Straight Loss in Potential Stanley Cup Preview

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, January 17, 2018 6:12 PM UTC

Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018 6:12 PM UTC

Easily the NHL game of the week is Thursday night from Tampa, where the Eastern Conference-leading Lightning host the West’s best Vegas Golden Knights.

Vegas Golden Knights at Tampa Bay LightningFree NHL Pick: LightningBest Line Offered: SportsBetting

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There are 10 games on the NHL schedule Thursday, but there’s no arguing the marquee matchup is expansion team Vegas making its first-ever trip to Tampa in what could be a preview of the Stanley Cup Finals between conference leaders. It’s a 7:30 p.m. ET puck drop from Amalie Arena, and unfortunately there’s no national TV.

The Golden Knights look for the season sweep as on Dec. 19 they were slight home NHL betting underdogs but beat the Lightning 4-3. Rookie Shea Theodore scored the winning goal on a power play with just 2.3 seconds remaining and added three assists to be named the game’s No. 1 star. It was a fantastic game as the Lightning took a 2-0 lead in the first period, with Vegas scoring two in the second and taking a 3-2 lead on an Erik Haula power-play goal at 4:42 of the third. Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman tied it on the man-advantage at 16:08, leading up to Theodore’s winner. There were an incredible six power-play goals overall: Vegas was a ridiculous 4-for-5 and Tampa Bay 2-for-4.

That these teams play in the Stanley Cup Finals is a +2090 exact matchup favorite at 5Dimes.

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Presidents’ Trophy To Winner?

Tampa Bay (31-10-3) leads the Eastern Conference/NHL with 65 points and is running away with the Atlantic Division. The Bolts also are No. 1 in the NHL in goal differential (plus-49) and in scoring (3.6 goals per game). Vegas (29-11-3) is tops in the West with 61 points and has a solid lead in the Pacific Division; it also leads the conference in goal differential at plus-28 and is third league-wide in scoring (3.3 goals per game).

By any statistical measure, the Golden Knights are having the best expansion season of any team in the four major U.S. professional sports leagues ever. Older NHL fans might remember the 1967-68 expansion St. Louis Blues made the Stanley Cup Finals, but that was simply because the NHL put all six of its new teams into the same division that year, the winner of which had to make the Finals. The Blues were routed by the Canadiens in the Finals. Probably the previous best NHL expansion team was the 1993-94 Panthers, who finished 33-34-17 and with an even goal differential.

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we’re officially in the Tampa-St. Pete area there is no sign yet of whether the Charlestown Chiefs moved here or not

— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) January 17, 2018

Thus, it figures that one of these teams will win the Presidents’ Trophy, although that might not be a good thing. Since the league began handing that out in the 1985-86 season to the team that finishes the regular season with the most points, only eight winners have also won the Stanley Cup that year. The last was Chicago in 2012-13.

Both teams also enter off a loss. Vegas has dropped two straight, 3-2 in overtime at home to Edmonton on Saturday and 1-0 in Nashville on Tuesday. Tampa Bay lost at home to Calgary 5-1 last Thursday and then went on its bye. Much worse news in that game as the Bolts lost All-Star defenseman and Norris Trophy candidate Hedman midway through the second with a lower-body injury. He will miss 3-6 weeks. Hedman has six goals, 27 assists and is an NHL-best plus-24.

Tampa Bay is 17-4-1 at home and has won 10 of its past 14 when scoring two goals or fewer in the previous game. Vegas is the NHL’s best home team but “only” 11-9-1 at home. Take the Lightning on Thursday’s NHL picks.

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