The Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks are set to face off Thursday night in the Windy City. It’ll be the first time these new Central Division foes have met since the first two games of the regular season when the Lightning (15-4-1) swept the Blackhawks (12-7-4) and out-scored them 10-3.
Here is a closer look at Thursday’s matchup, complete with a free pick. Tampa Bay is a steady favorite at -210, while Chicago is a +175 underdog at home.
By the Numbers
Toronto is the only team in the NHL that averages more goals per game than Tampa Bay’s 3.55. Even crazier, their 29.1 shots per game is only 22nd in the NHL, so their efficiency is elite. They also boast a 26.5% power play rate, good for seventh in the sport.
On the other hand, Chicago doesn’t have the superior advantage in goal-scoring but has the leg up elsewhere. The Hawks are averaging 3.13 goals per game, which sits 12th in hockey, but average about one-and-a-half shots more than Tampa. But the biggest advantage is on the power play, where Chicago’s 33.3% success rate is tops in the league.
Defensively, the Lightning have a more definitive edge. The Bolts allow a meager 1.95 goals per game, the fewest on the league, on just 28 shots. Additionally, they hope their second-ranked penalty kill, which sits at 88.6%, can contain Chicago’s dynamic power play. They may get some work in, too, because they also average more penalty minutes than any team in hockey.
Thanks to breakthrough goaltending, the Blackhawks’ defensive numbers have improved. They now rank 15th with 2.87 goals allowed, despite still allowing a league-high 34 shots on goal. They also boast a success rate of 75% on the penalty kill, 23rd in the NHL, but unlike their opponent, they spend the second-fewest amount of time in the box per night.
Lightning Betting Preview
The defending Stanley Cup champions have been out of their word good over their last five games. Since being blanked by the Hurricanes on February 20th, Tampa Bay has won each of the last five, three of them shutouts, and by a combined score of 17-3. The first-place Bolts will now hope to keep rolling against a team they obliterated twice at the beginning of the season.
Two longtime members of the Lightning share the team-lead in points. Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman each have 20 points, with Stamkos having a balanced tally of a team-high ten goals with ten assists and Hedman having just four goals but a high of 16 helpers. Just behind Stamkos is goals is Ondrej Palat, who, after back-to-back games with goals is up to nine on the year.
Brayden Point is also one of the team-leaders in points with 19, while young defenseman Mikhail Sergachev trails only Hedman with 14 assists. Tampa Bay has also gotten a boost from Anthony Cirelli, who returned to action after a six-game absence due to injury and netted a pair of points.
In goal, Tampa Bay has the luxury of having maybe the best netminder in hockey. Andrei Vasilevskiy should draw the start again, as the 26-year old is 13-3-1 with a stellar 1.65 GAA, and .942 save percentage. Should they hold Vasilevskiy out until Friday, the backup Curtis McElhinney would man the net.
Blackhawks Betting Preview
The Blackhawks have overcome a dismal start and now sit in playoff position, fourth-place in the Central Division. Chicago has dropped just three of their last nine games, with their most recent win a 7-2 game where they set a season-high in goals scored. However, all three of those losses have been when their opponent scores five goals or more, which happened in both games against Tampa earlier this season.
As usual, Patrick Kane is carrying the Hawks in the point department. The recent 400-goal scorer has 34 points this season, 23 of them via the assist, with three goals and five assists just in his last four games. However, his 11 goals tie him for the team-lead with Alex DeBrincat, who has goals in back-to-back games to tie Kane, along with potting 14 helpers as well.
Following those two is Dominik Kubalik, who has eight goals and ten assists, including three of his past four outings. D-men Adam Boqvist and Calvin de Haan have also played well, registering three assists each over their last three contests.
With games Thursday and Friday, the Hawks will presumably start Kevin Lankinen one game and Malcolm Subban in the other. The rookie Lankinen has taken the starting job and ran with it, going 9-3-3 with a 2.55 GAA and .924 save percentage. Meanwhile, Subban is 3-2-1 but now carries a respectable 2.60 GAA and .915 save percentage.
Throw out the first two games of the season when previewing this matchup, as this is a completely different Blackhawks team than the one that started the season. Chances are they win at least one of the next three games against Tampa Bay between now and Sunday, but part of it may depend on who starts in goal any given day.
For now, though, I’ll take the Lightning to win Thursday, thanks to their elite defense and elite five-game stretch heading into the evening.
Pick: Lightning -210
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