The Action Network is providing NHL.com readers with odds and analysis for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Today, a look at Game 3 of the Semifinals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders.
Lightning at Islanders Odds
Lightning odds: -140
Islanders odds: +115
Series moneyline: Lightning -200 / Islanders +160
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Note: If you’re new to betting, the Lightning’s -140 odds mean a $140 bet would profit $140 if they win the game. Conversely, the Islanders’ +115 odds mean a $100 bet would net $115. Convert odds using The Action Network’s Betting Odds Calculator.
Thursday night will be the 15th game of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs for the New York Islanders. It will also be the 15th time in a row that the Isles will be listed as the underdog.
While some sportsbooks may have had the Isles as the slightest of home favorites in a game or two in Round 1 against the Penguins, according to Action Labs (The Action Network’s odds-tracking database), the Isles have been the underdog in their 14 previous games this postseason.
If you’re new to betting on the NHL, that fact may come as a bit of a surprise to you, but if you’re a seasoned bettor or just like to follow the NHL market, it won’t come as a shock. It has been a niche storyline in hockey since Barry Trotz took over on Long Island. The Isles just seem to confound bookmakers, market-setters and statistical modelers. That’s because it’s hard to put a number on intangibles like chemistry, knowledge of a system and resiliency, so oftentimes bettors just draw a line through those abstract concepts and stick to their numbers.
For the most part, that is the right way to approach betting on the NHL — drowning out the noise and sticking to predictive stats — but there is always an exception to the rule, and perhaps the Isles are just an outlier and should be handled as such until proven otherwise.
And while the Islanders catch most of their praise for their Trotzian intangibles, they also are a pretty good hockey club. New York did struggle down the stretch of the regular season, but it still managed to finish the campaign with the fourth-best expected goals rate and third-best high-danger scoring chance rate in the NHL.
Those numbers did dip down the stretch, which is part of the reason the betting market remained lukewarm on the Isles heading into the playoffs, but it does look like the Islanders have found their footing a bit against the Bolts. While both teams have scored three goals apiece at 5-on-5, the Islanders have a slight 3.89 to 3.25 edge in terms of expected goals and hold a 17-15 edge in terms of high-danger scoring chances through two games (per Natural Stat Trick). In other words, there’s very little that has separated these two teams at even strength.
Expected goals (also known as xG) is a predictive statistic that gives an indication of whether results are based on sustainable factors like a steady creation of scoring chances, or whether it is down to aspects such as shooting luck or outstanding goaltending.
Simply put, an expected goals rate (xGF%) above 50% is considered good because it means a team is creating the majority of the scoring chances. Anything below 50% is usually a sign that a team is struggling to control play.
Despite the fact that they lost, 4-2, and spent much of the third period chasing the game, the Islanders actually had a pretty encouraging showing in Game 2. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Isles created eight high-danger scoring chances and allowed seven, and the visitors also won the expected goals battle, 2.01 to 1.61, at 5-on-5. Those aren’t dominating numbers, but they do show that the Isles were once again able to hold their own when things were equal on the ice.
Of course, the Bolts don’t need to impose their will at 5-on-5 to have success. Tampa has game-breakers at every position, and each of them is capable of turning a game on its head with a moment of magic. A lot of that wizardry takes place on the power play, which is clipping at an absurd 39.5% rate in the playoffs. The Islanders were one of the least-penalized teams in the NHL over the regular season and their penalty kill, for the most part, was pretty good, but Florida and Carolina learned the hard way that losing track of your discipline against Tampa is a non-starter if you want to get out of this series alive.
The Lightning did a terrific job in Game 2 of getting the Islanders to abandon their game script slightly. While the Isles are not shy about throwing the body, the Bolts seemed to make it a point to goad New York into some extra-curriculars, and that strategy paid off as we saw a total of nine power plays on Tuesday night. Even though Tampa ‘only’ went 1-for-5 on the power play in Game 2, the Islanders simply cannot compete with Tampa’s scoring talent in a special teams contest and will need to re-find their discipline if they want to give themselves a puncher’s chance in Game 3.
And even if the Isles do find a way to hang with Tampa on Thursday night, they still will have to figure out a way to get pucks past Andrei Vasilevskiy, who leads the NHL with a +16.6 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) mark this postseason. Vasilevskiy was fabulous on Tuesday night, allowing just two goals on 4.99 xG, per MoneyPuck. In other words, Vasilevskiy’s performance in Game 2 was basically worth three goals.
The Bolts are also masters at creating sweet music on the rush. Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Ondrej Palat all thrive gunning forward with numbers, and their ability to turn a mistake into a red light in the blink of an eye means they are never out of a game.
There are always valid reasons to pick the Lightning to win a hockey game. That said, everything comes down to the odds in hockey, and the current odds imply that the Bolts beat the Islanders roughly 58.3% of the time on Thursday night.
Perhaps you think that getting Tampa at -140 is worth a bet because it’s unlikely you’ll see a better number on the defending champs again in this series. That’s a logical way of approaching this matchup and who am I to judge if that’s how you want to invest in this tilt. Of course, the other side of the coin is that the Islanders have made it a trademark to turn games with more talented opponents into coin flips, and while that may not be a skill that pops up in the numbers, discounting the Islanders just because they don’t stack up on paper has proven to be a bad bet this postseason.
Michael Leboff covers the NHL and more at The Action Network – a sports media company that builds products and creates content to inform and entertain the sports bettor.