The Action Network is providing NHL.com readers with odds and analysis for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Today, a look at Game 5 of the Semifinals between the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Islanders at Lightning Game 5 odds
Islanders odds: +150
Lightning odds: -185
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Note: If you’re new to betting, the Lightning’s -185 odds mean a $185 bet would profit $100 if they win the game. Conversely, the Canadiens’ +150 odds mean a $100 bet would net $150. Convert odds using The Action Network’s Betting Odds Calculator.
At times, the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs felt like a coronation for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Sure, the Bolts were faced with some stiff competition en route to their second Stanley Cup title, but it became clear that Tampa Bay was in a class of its own. The Bolts went 16-6 in the tournament, never faced an elimination game and never lost back-to-back contests. They were Stanley Cup favorites for a reason.
That playoff pedigree carried into 2021 as the Lightning dispatched the Panthers, 4-2, and the Hurricanes, 4-1, to reach the Stanley Cup Semifinals. With Tampa Bay riding a six-series winning streak heading into their best-of-7 showdown with the Islanders, you could be forgiven for thinking that, at the end of the day, these playoffs would look a lot like last season’s. Tampa Bay would be pushed here and there, but in the end the Lightning’s class would win out. That’s how bookmakers and market-setters saw it, as they installed the Lightning as -265 favorites to win their final four rematch with the Islanders. Those odds ballooned to -550 after Tampa skated to a 2-1 series lead thanks to a Game 3 victory on Long Island that saw the Bolts beat the Islanders at their own game. Perhaps another coronation was on tap.
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. xG numbers and advanced stats cited from Evolving Hockey, MoneyPuck and Natural Stat Trick.
But this is hockey and that means that things can change in an instant. Or in this case, they can change thanks to a miraculous, last-gasp save by Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock in New York’s 3-2 win in Game 4. Thanks to Pulock, the Isles now head to Tampa as +165 underdogs to come back and win the series. Those odds imply that the Isles have roughly a 37.7% chance to come back and win the series. It still may be unlikely, but 37.7% looks a lot better compared to the 20% chance they were given before Game 4 on Saturday night.
That brings us to Game 5, which sets up with the Islanders as a +150 underdog at the time of writing. That number is actually a little shy of where the Isles closed for Games 1 and 2 (via BetMGM):
Game 1: Lightning -200/Islanders +165
Game 2: Lightning -200/Islanders +165
In theory, the odds for Games 1, 2 and 5 should be basically the same. These are the same two teams playing at the same venue on the same amount of rest, so there’s no reason to see any real drastic shift in price from game to game.
That’s why it won’t be a surprise if money comes in on the Lightning and drives their price back up toward where it closed for their first two home games of the series. Laying -185 in a sport as chaotic as hockey may not seem appealing to some, but you can be sure that there are some savvy bettors out there who see those odds as a discount on an elite team considering where they closed on Sunday and Tuesday.
That said, it’s also no shock to see the Isles getting a bit more respect at the moment.
Not only have the Isles managed to get this series back to Tampa tied at two games apiece, but they’ve looked like they belong in this contest. Last playoffs, the Lightning were clearly the better team and dominated the Isles at 5-on-5. New York was lucky to get to six games in 2020.
It’s a different story this time around, however, as the Isles and Lightning have basically split the spoils at 5-on-5. Both teams have scored seven goals at even strength, but the Islanders have created more scoring chances:
Goals: Lightning 7, Islanders 7
Shot attempts: Lightning 176, Islanders 164
Expected goals: Lightning 6.99, Islanders 8.95
High-danger scoring chances: Lightning 29, Islanders 38
The numbers, the eye test and the series scoreline tell us that this best-of-7 has been pretty darn close to a coin flip. That begs the question: Will the odds start to tell a similar story?
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.