Tampa Bay Lightning (+125) at New York Rangers (-145, 5 o/u)
And then there were four. With the Conference semifinals finished, only a quartet of teams are still in the hunt for the 2015 Stanley Cup.
In the East, the New York Rangers (53-22-7) will clash with the Tampa Bay Lightning (50-24-8). Though the Rangers finished the regular season with the best record in the NHL, the team will be looking for its first win of the year over Tampa in Game 1, which goes today at MSG (1:00 PM Eastern Time).
The Rangers lost all three regular season meetings against the Lightning (5-1, 4-3, and 6-3). But the team may not be overly concerned with that trend given the recent play of goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has eight wins, a 1.60 GAA, and .944 save percentage in the playoffs. The Swede came up huge for the Rangers in their Game 7 win over the Capitals in the Eastern Conference semis, stopping 35 of 36 shots.
The Rangers went down 1-0 early to the Caps in that game, but didn’t panic, tying the game on a powerplay in the second period and then winning it in OT on a goal by Derek Stepan.
“I expect this group to win,” Rangers coach Alan Vigneault said to the New York Times. “Even though we were behind, I thought we were playing good hockey. It was a matter of staying with the process, and that’s what we did.”
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, took care of division foe Montreal in six games to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
The Lightning had dominated the Habs in the regular season, taking all four meetings. They continued that dominance in the first three games of the best-of-seven series, but then dropped two straight to the pesky Canadiens.
“There was a genuine pissed-off attitude that we lost Game 5 [to Montreal],” said Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper. “Guys were angry, and it’s carried over, so I like our mojo. I want to be an angry team.”
The angry Bolts rebounded in Game 6 for a dominant 4-1 win at home, holding the Habs to just 19 shots on net.
In the trends, Tampa Bay is 6-3 SU in its last nine games on the road against the Rangers. Lundqvist is playing extremely well, but the Rangers are having trouble scoring goals, while Tampa – the highest-scoring team in the regular season – is finding its stride offensively. All of the above makes the Lightning at +125 look like better value.
Pick: Tampa Bay (+125).
(Photo credit: Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)