Thursday brings us a critical Game 5 in the Eastern Conference Finals between the New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The series shifts back to Madison Square Garden for Game 5, although the Lightning are listed as road favorites with a moneyline of -125 compared to New York’s moneyline of +105. Game 5 also has an over/under of 5.5 goals.
The good news for the Rangers is that the home team has won the first four games of the series. New York dominated Game 1 6-2 and held on for a 3-2 win in Game 2. But when the series shifted back to Tampa, the Lightning came from behind to win Game 3 3-2 and then cruised to a comfortable 4-1 win in Game 4 to even up the series.
When Will Lightning Strike Again?
There is little doubt that goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has been a huge catalyst for the Lightning tying the series after falling behind 2-0. He clearly had trouble during the first two games of the series, especially in Game 1. But back home in Tampa, he allowed just three goals over two games while facing 65 shots from the Rangers.
On the other end of the ice, there is a glimmer of hope that forward Brayden Point will return from injury in Game 5. Point registered 28 goals in 30 assists for Tampa during the regular season and has been the playoff leader in goals the past two seasons when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup. If you take away empty-net goals, Tampa is averaging just 2.5 goals per game in the eight games they’ve played without Point, so he is clearly critical to the team’s performance.
Of course, even with a little momentum behind them, the Lightning needs to prove that they can get the job done on the road, with or without Point. During the regular season, Tampa was 24-15-2 on the road. However, with their two losses in this series, they are just 4-4 on the road in the playoffs.
Wrangle the Rangers
The Rangers have to be nothing short of disappointed at how things played out in Tampa. In Game 3, they were 20 minutes from taking a commanding 3-0 series lead, only to give up two goals in the final period and let a lead slip away. After that, they were outplayed for large stretches of Game 4, clearly losing the momentum they built up over the first two games.
The silver lining is that while Vasilevskiy has shined, Igor Shesterkin still gives them arguably the better goalie in the series. Keep in mind the Rangers allowed the second-fewest goals per game during the regular season at 2.49 goals per game. During the playoffs, Shesterkin and the Rangers had allowed three goals or less in 13 straight games before giving up four goals in Game 4.
However, scoring goals has become an issue for the Rangers. After that high-scoring series with the Penguins, the Rangers are averaging just 2.6 goals per game over their last 11 games. They also face injury questions regarding both Filip Chytil and Ryan Strome ahead of Game 5, creating further doubt about their inconsistency at that end of the ice.
Where’s the Value?
Despite Tampa having the momentum in this series, there is still value in taking the Rangers as home underdogs, as they are 8-1 at home in the playoffs, winning every game at MSG except for Game 1 of the First Round. There is also value in taking the under on 5.5 goals. The under has hit in eight of New York’s last 11 games and eight of Tampa’s last nine games.
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