Arguably the most intriguing NHL first-round playoff matchup starts Monday from Toronto as the Maple Leafs host the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 from the Eastern Conference. Which way to lean at BMR’s top-rated sportsbooks?
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Monday, May 02, 2022 – 07:30 PM EDT at Scotiabank Arena
In this writer’s opinion, the Lightning-Maple Leafs Eastern Conference matchup is the best first-round series in the Stanley Cup playoffs and it’s not particularly close. Both are more than capable of winning the Cup.
Of course, the Bolts are two-time reigning champions and +1100 on the NHL futures odds to join an exclusive club of teams to win the Cup three straight seasons. Toronto has the longest Cup drought in the NHL, last winning it in 1967.
The Leafs are +875 on the future odds. All that said, I am not picking either to be the champion this year. Probably leaning toward Florida over Calgary in the Final. No Canadian team has won it all since Montreal in 1993.
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On the series line at BetOnline, one of BMR’s top-rated books, the Leafs are -118 and the Lightning -102. Yet Lightning winning in six is the same +425 price as Toronto in seven. That’s weird. A sweep by either is a +1200 long shot.
For total games in the series, seven is +190 with six at +195, five at +275, and four at +575. I like the Leafs in seven but obviously, that could change if there’s a major injury, etc. The teams split four regular-season meetings. The road team is 7-3 in the past 10 on the NHL odds.
Historic Threepeat Possible
Tampa Bay finished third in the Atlantic Division with 110 points and had a goals differential of plus-54. Star Steven Stamkos has had many great seasons but this may have been his best as he played 81 of 82 games and finished with a career-high 106 points, tied for sixth in the league.
I don’t really know if regular-season momentum carries over to the playoffs, but in their regular-season finale last Friday, Tampa Bay rallied from down 3-1 in the third to beat the Islanders 6-4 behind a Stamkos hat trick – his lone one of the season. That clinched third place in the Atlantic ahead of Boston.
“We talked about going out and just playing a good third period and trying to gain some momentum heading into the playoffs,” Stamkos said.
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The Lightning are very good on the power play, converting 23.9 percent of the time, eighth in the league. They have scored a power-play goal in a season-high eight consecutive games and have scored multiple goals on the power play in four of their last six games.
There is no better playoff goaltender alive than Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, the 2021 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as postseason MVP. The Russian is 49-29 in his playoff career with a 2.24 goals-against average. 924 save percentage and six shutouts. He was good this regular season but not quite as good as in years past with a 39-18-5 record, 2.49 GAA, and .916 SV. Against the Leafs this year, he was 2-1-1 with a 2.97 GAA and .919 SV.
Steven Stamkos led the Bolts with nine points (two goals, seven assists) in the season series. Both goals were on the power play. Tampa Bay is 1-4 on the NHL odds in its past five as an underdog.
Leafs Led By Matthews
There are two key injuries to note for the Leafs, who finished second in the Atlantic Division with a franchise-record 115 points. Winger Michael Bunting missed the final three regular-season games with an undisclosed injury (they never say what it is in the NHL) and is not likely to go Monday.
He had 23 goals and 40 assists this year. Fellow forward Ondrej Kase (14 goals, 13 assists) is questionable after missing the past 20 games with a concussion.
Toronto was second in the NHL in scoring at 3.80 goals per game and first on the power play at 27.3 percent. Auston Matthews won his second Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy after becoming just the third player to score 60 goals in a season this century, following Alex Ovechkin (2007-08) and Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos (2011-12).
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Matthews won the Hart Trophy last season as league MVP and is the betting favorite on the NHL futures odds to repeat. He led the team with seven points (three goals, four assists) in the regular season vs. Tampa Bay.
Mitch Marner finished second on the team with 97 points, but he becomes a different guy in the playoffs, and not in a good way. He hasn’t scored a playoff goal since 2017-18 and has only eight assists in 12 postseason games the past two years.
Toronto as a franchise is a bit cursed playoff-wise, not advancing a round since 2004. The Maple Leafs have played 45 postseason games since they last won a series.
The Leafs got much better at the trade deadline by acquiring likely future Hall of Fame defenseman Mark Giordano from Seattle. It will be Jack Campbell in the net. He was 2-1-0 with a 2.33 GAA and .918 SV this year vs. the Lightning and 31-9-6 overall with a 2.64 GAA and .914 SV.
This is about as evenly matched series as possible, but I’ll have to lean the home side for Game 1. Toronto has won eight of its last 10 vs. teams with a winning percentage of .600 or better, and Tampa Bay is just 4-10 in its last 14 vs. teams with a winning record. For your NHL picks, invest in the Maple Leafs.
Score Prediction: Toronto 3, Tampa Bay 2
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.