The way people have been talking, why even play this series? Everybody has penciled the Penguins in for the Stanley Cup Finals. The Lightning are being written off before the series has even started. A sweep or 5 game series looks like the consensus among most people. Hold on a second though, the Lightning are a good team, a damn good team that is here for good reason. Still, the absence of Steven Stamkos is still scaring people away from them. Also the third line of the Penguins is deadly. Matching up with them is a chore and causes chaos for the other side. Phil Kessel might not be the best option for a top line, but he is benefiting from playing a lesser role in Pittsburgh. He was conceiving the best player against the Capitals, scoring 2 goals against Braden Holtby. The Pens endured a furious rally by the Caps, but ended up reining supreme in overtime.
I see a lot taking the Lightning lightly. The Penguins just better hope as a team they aren’t. We have seen that same story a thousand times in the past in the playoffs. The Pens thankfully don’t even need their best players to necessarily show up and take the series over. In this sense, they are deep team that can win from a multitude of angles. The Penguins have also gotten a tremendous effort out of rookie goaltender, Matt Murray. It’s been a welcome surprise for the Penguins after their starter and experienced goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, hit the shelf with a concussion.
Murray may look like he is 16-years old, but he is playing like a wily veteran who has been in this position before. However, Murray doesn’t even have much regular season experience. He’s been leading the Penguins after nobody knew his name before the playoffs. It’s going to lead to an interesting situation for the Pens next season, who will have a pretty nice problem to have in net. Murray will need to shine again in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Lightning. I’m in the camp that believes this is going to be a closer series that many are left to believe. I feel the Penguins will come represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals, but don’t discount the Lightning being pushovers. Find my pick for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals below.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Pittsburgh Penguins NHL Playoffs Pick
The Penguins have been playing well on both sides of the ice in the playoffs. Sidney Crosby hasn’t been that noticeable to the naked eye, but his contributions have gone beyond the stat sheet. That is also the beauty of playing in such a deep team. They have led all teams in scoring, averaging 3.36 goals per game, while allowing 2.27 goals on the defensive end. Note that this has been without the scoring touch of Crosby, who hasn’t scored since April 10th. The Lightning enter the Eastern Conference Finals scoring 3 goals per game in the previous two series. This is going to be a much bigger challenge than the Red Wings and Islanders, though. Bishop was strong in net other than one blemish against the Isles. The Lightning allowed 1.90 goals per game, the only two better was the Capitals in the playoffs.
Bishop will have to be a thief for the Lightning, and you know what, he could very well play better than Murray over a 7 game series. It is one edge the Lightning might have, and he is also a goaltender who has been down this past before, with a Stanley Cup appearance last season. Murray has looked unfazed though in net, so it’s going to be interesting how this series works out. I like the Penguins to jump out and take Game 1, the Lightning should be in for a bit of a shock compared to the Red Wings and Islanders’ series. It’s without a doubt a step up in competition. I am not laying that much juice on the ML, however. So, what I’m going to do is play the Penguins to win in regulation. Many books have this bet nowadays, you shouldn’t have a tough time finding it. It is also represented by a line of -0.5.