Spilko's Friday NHL Playoffs Pick: Maple Leafs vs Lightning in Tampa, where Bolts have been nearly unbeatable
Let’s stay in the Eastern Conference for another individual game pick.
Game 3: Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning (series tied 1-1)
Toronto came out firing on all cylinders in Game 1 against Tampa Bay, but hit a rut in the second go-around. It would’ve greatly benefitted the Maple Leafs, who have not advanced to the second round since 2004, to take a 2-0 series lead heading to Amalie Arena against the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions.
However, Tampa Bay shook off its five-goal defeat from the opening contest and exploded with five goals of its own on Wednesday night to even the series.
It’ll be the right move to back the Lightning in Game 3 on Friday, considering their past success on home ice in the postseason. In last year’s playoffs, Tampa Bay was nearly unstoppable on home ice, capturing nine wins in 12 total games.
Tampa Bay’s execution on special teams is also another reason to back head coach Jon Cooper’s squad. The Lightning failed to capture a single power play goal in five tries in Game 1, but Game 2 was a more realistic picture of what should happen if the Leafs are unable to remain disciplined. The Lightning punished Toronto for surrendering a whopping seven power play opportunities in the second game.
Tampa Bay scored three of its five goals with the man-advantage, completely flipping the script from its lifeless power play dating back to Game 1. The Lightning drew the third-most power plays out of any team in the regular season, converting at a 23.9% clip that was good enough for eighth-best in the NHL. Tampa Bay should see plenty more opportunities with a man-up in Game 3.
Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy also managed to keep the Lightning afloat in Game 2, sending aside 31 of 34 shots from the Leafs to help Tampa Bay capture the win. Vasilevskiy will continue to be a big difference-maker in the crease and I expect him to put on a show at home.
Backed by its all-world net-minder and a power play that converted at a dangerous rate last game, it’s hard to see Tampa Bay dropping its first playoff home game of the postseason.
The pick: Tampa Bay Lightning moneyline (-115)