It’s a potential Stanley Cup Finals preview in the marquee matchup around the NHL on a busy Saturday as the Colorado Avalanche visits the Tampa Bay Lightning. Which way to lean at BMR’s top-rated sportsbooks?
Colorado Avalanche vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Saturday, October 23, 2021 – 07:00 PM EDT at Amalie Arena
There are 13 games on Saturday around the NHL – always the busiest day of the week – and by far the marquee matchup is Colorado vs. Tampa Bay in what could easily be a Stanley Cup Finals preview. On BetOnline (visit our BetOnline Review) NHL futures odds, the Avalanche are +500 Cup favorites and the Lightning +750 second-favorites. Each is obviously also favored in its respective conference.
Frankly, it’s a darn shame this game is being played so early in the season and on a Saturday as it will be overshadowed by college football, Major League Baseball playoffs, the NBA, and NHL. Shoot, it may not even be the biggest NHL “story” of the day because expansion Seattle will play its first-ever home game in its new billion-dollar arena against Vancouver at 10:00 PM EDT.
The Avalanche and Lightning have never met in the playoffs because they are in separate conferences. They could have last year before the Stanley Cup Finals as conferences were scrapped during the pandemic. Colorado entered the playoffs as the Cup betting favorite but was upset in the second round by Vegas. Tampa Bay, of course, repeated as Cup champion.
When these clubs met in the 2019-20 season, they split – each winning on the road. The favorite is 14-3 on the NHL picks in the past 17 meetings.
Avalanche Don’t Look Right Yet
No team has a better top line in the league than the Avalanche with Nathan MacKinnon centering Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. That trio played together for the first time this season Thursday – MacKinnon missed the first two games in COVID protocols and Landeskog was suspended for two.
Alas, it didn’t much matter Thursday as the Avalanche lost their third in a row, 4-1, at the Florida Panthers. Rantanen had the lone goal, his second of the season, to tie it late in the first but that was all Colorado could get vs. Sergei Bobrovsky. Rantanen has at least one point in every game. MacKinnon was held without a shot on goal. You don’t see that every day. All three of the top-line players were minus-2. Star defenseman Cale Makar was a team-worst minus-3.
Avs backup netminder Jonas Johansson allowed three goals on 37 shots, but it will be No. 1 Darcy Kuemper in this one. Kuemper, in his first season with the team, hasn’t been all that great, either, going 1-2-0 with a 3.79 GAA and .890 SV. Colorado probably already regrets letting last year’s Vezina Trophy finalist Philipp Grubauer getaway to Seattle.
Injury-wise, the team remains without winger Valeri Nichushkin and defenseman Devon Toews with Toews closer to playing – but not likely Saturday. Colorado is 0-5 on the NHL odds in its past five road games dating to last season.
Lightning Eye First Home Win
Tampa Bay has a major rest advantage here as the Lightning haven’t played since Tuesday when they were upset 4-1 at home – the Bolts are usually invincible at home but have been outscored at Amalie Arena 10-3 in two losses yet are 2-0 on the road. Other than a seven-goal effort on Oct. 14 in Detroit, scoring has been a problem for this team.
That may continue as former Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury suffered last Saturday in Washington. By out indefinitely we don’t mean a few weeks but more like months. Coach Jon Cooper didn’t have a definitive timeline, but he did say it won’t be as long as last year’s 56-game absence. It may mean Kucherov misses the Olympics for Team Russia.
Kucherov four points (one goal, three assists) in three games this season and led all players with 32 points in last season’s playoffs after missing the entire regular season off hip surgery. In that loss to Florida without Kucherov, the Bolts were an ugly 0-for-6 on the power play.
"Obviously, a lot goes through Kuch, so when you take a player out like that, I think there's some setting that needs to be done," said Lightning assistant coach Jeff Halpern. “Everything from the breakouts to the face-offs changes when he leaves. It'll take some time."
Former Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy, who won the Conn Smy the Trophy in last year’s playoffs, is dealing with a Stanley Cup hangover. He is 2-2-0 with a 3.22 goals-against average and .893 save percentage, allowing at least three goals in three of four starts. I could see Cooper giving him a game off soon but doubt it's Saturday because it’s such a big matchup and Vasilevskiy will want to play. Brian Elliott is his backup.
The Lightning is 12-5 at BMR’s top-rated books in their past 17 on at least three days of rest. I expect them to be very motivated for this big matchup and get that first home win.
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