If you’re a fan of goaltending, you’ll be locked into the Eastern Conference Finals.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, widely regarded as the best goaltender globally and a former Vezina Trophy winner, will lead the Lightning into Madison Square Garden to take on this year’s Vezina winner in Igor Shesterkin and the New York Rangers. Make no mistake about it – these are the two best goaltenders in the league, and one of them will give their team the right to play for the Stanley Cup.
But as the old mantra goes: One play, one shift, one period, one game at a time. Here is my best bet for Game 1 of the East Final following that mantra.
(Odds courtesy of BetMGM)
New York Rangers ML (+105)
Some will view this as a prisoner-of-the-moment pick. New York just stormed back and won their fifth straight game when facing elimination to knock out the Hurricanes at their home barn, where they were previously undefeated. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay hasn’t played in a week. Am I falling into a Vegas trap? I don’t think so, and I believe the recent trends give New York an edge in Game 1.
The Lightning are a championship team. Of course, they have won back-to-back Cups and are on the cusp of playing for a third straight. Long layoffs won’t affect them as they will other, less experienced teams. But with that experience comes, well, experience. At a minimum, Tampa Bay knows what their goal is – to split the first two games in New York. That’s not to say they won’t give their best effort in Game 1, but it does mean that they won’t panic, get outside their game, and try to force play in the first game of the series. They know each series is a marathon, not a sprint. And I think it’s going to take a couple of shifts for them to get back to game speed.
Most saves by a @NYRangers goalie in a Game 7:
— Hockey Reference (@hockey_ref) May 31, 2022
On the other hand, the Rangers haven’t stopped playing at playoff speed. They’ve played two straight seven-game series and haven’t had more than a single off day in a row all playoff long. The momentum and adrenaline from their series-clinching victory over Carolina will carry over into Game 1 of this series, especially in front of their home crowd.
New York has lost just a single game on home ice in the playoffs, and it came back on May 3 – Game 1 against Pittsburgh, where it took three overtimes for the Penguins to notch a win. The Rangers are not only 6-1 at home; they’ve won five of those six games by multiple goals. Yes, they played a third-string goaltender in round one and a backup in round two, and Vasilevskiy is the cream of the crop. But the Rangers went undefeated against the Lightning this year. They’re going to come out flying in Game 1.
I like Tampa Bay to win this series. I think the Rangers will run out of gas after playing the maximum amount of games through two rounds. Tampa Bay is just flat out better and will force the Rangers to beat them five-on-five, something I don’t think the Rangers are capable of in a seven-game series. But Game 1 goes to New York. Only play them as a plus-money underdog.
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