Nashville Predators (+134) at Tampa Bay Lightning (-138, 5 o/u)
It wasn’t too long ago that the Nashville Predators (45-21-8, 98 pts) were the top team in the NHL and looked poised to take home a bundle of hardware at the end of the season (goalie Pekka Rinne was the odds-on favorite for the Vezina and co-fave for the Hart).
But then the Preds fell on hard times, losing six straight starting at the end of February and going just 4-3 since then. The slump has seen the team get leapfrogged by five teams in the President’s Trophy race.
Tonight, Nashville will have a chance to pass one of them back, as they travel to Tampa Bay to face the Lightning (46-21-7, 99 pts) at Amalie Arena (7:30 PM Eastern).
Though a sub-par 4-5-1 in their last ten, the Predators have some reason to be optimistic. The team has won its last two games and, most recently, downed the NHL-leading Montreal Canadiens (3-2 OT) on Tuesday.
Diminutive defenseman Ryan Ellis tied the game midway through the third, and rookie sensation Filip Forsberg scored the winner on the power play in overtime (after drawing the penalty, to boot).
Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette was happy with the way his team battled when they were down late.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game. They have had an excellent year and played well tonight. Our guys are confident we can be successful even when we are down one in the third,” said Laviolette.
Tampa Bay comes into tonight’s game tied for second in the Eastern Conference, just one point back of Montreal. The Lightning are making a push for the President’s Trophy late in the season, going 8-1-1 in their last ten and taking four straight from the Canadiens, Red Wings, Bruins, and Panthers. (They can also clinch a playoff spot with a win tonight, but that’s largely a formality at this stage.)
Tampa picked up a 4-3 win over in-state rival Florida on Tuesday despite getting outshot 36-25. The Lightning roared to an early two goal lead, but gave up three unanswered in the second. Defenseman Nikita Kucherov knotted the game at three early in the third before Ryan Callahan played the her, scoring the winner with just over two minutes to play.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper was happy to get the two points, but felt his team got a bit lucky.
“Of all the teams, and we’ve played them all, that’s one of the hardest teams to play against, by far,”Cooper said about the Panthers, who sit five points back of a playoff spot. “[T]heir desperation level was at an all-time high, and I’m not sure ours was.”
The Predators are +134 to win tonight’s game while the Lightning are -148 at the moment. Nashville has won the last two in the series (by a score of 3-2), but both came in Tennessee. Given that Tampa is a league-best 30-7-1 at home, taking the Bolts (-148) looks like the better move.
Also consider the over (5 goals), as Tampa is the highest scoring team in the league and Nashville’s defense has tapered off a little of late.
(Photo credit: Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)