The Action Network: Islanders vs. Lightning, Game 7 odds, analysis

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The Action Network is providing NHL.com readers with odds and analysis for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Today, a look at Game 7 of the Semifinals between the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Islanders at Lightning Game 7 odds

Islanders odds: +135
Lightning odds: -165
Over/Under: 5
Time: 8 p.m. ET

Note: If you’re new to betting, the Lightning’s -165 odds mean a $165 bet would profit $100 if they win the game. Conversely, the Islanders’ +135 odds mean a $100 bet would net $135. Convert odds using The Action Network’s Betting Odds Calculator.

Game 6 between the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning served as a good lesson for hockey bettors. After losing 8-0 in Game 5 on Monday night, the price on the Islanders understandably ticked up and closed as high as +135. It took some intestinal fortitude to get behind a team that just endured its worst playoff loss in team history, but it paid off.

We’re seeing a different script play out ahead of Game 7. After an impressive, come-from-behind victory in Game 6, the Islanders are being offered between +135 and +148, depending on the sportsbook. Those prices represent a dip from what we saw in Game 5 on Monday night when the Isles closed at +155. While some of the market movement may be due to the way the Islanders played on Wednesday night, a lot of it has to do with the uncertainty surrounding right wing Nikita Kucherov‘s status for the contest. Kucherov played one shift in Game 6 before leaving with an undisclosed injury.

While Kucherov is one of the game’s best talents, the Lightning are not going to be lost without him. The Lightning won 36 of 56 games and scored the eighth-most goals in the NHL without the 28-year-old winger during the regular season.

Still, you can expect the odds on this game to move off of the news surrounding Kucherov. If it looks like the 2019 Hart Trophy winner will play, this line should shoot up towards Tampa. If he is ruled out, the Islanders will likely take money. Timing matters in betting, so staying on top of the status of Kucherov (and defenseman Erik Cernak) will be important for bettors looking to get the best number possible for Game 7.

What we do know for Friday night is that the New York Islanders will close as the underdog for the 19th time this postseason. That’s right, the Islanders have not been the favorite in any of their games during this run. It may sound bizarre, but as I noted in the Game 3 preview, this isn’t a new phenomena for this team. Ever since Barry Trotz arrived on Long Island, this team has confounded bookmakers, market-setters and modelers.

In fact, since Trotz took over in 2018-19, no team in the NHL has treated underdog bettors better than the Islanders have. According to Action Labs, the Islanders are 65-60 (52%) as underdogs under Trotz (including the postseason). If you bet $100 on every one of those games, you’d be up $2,343 and would have seen an 18.7% return on your investment.

Trotz’s Islanders get a lot of credit for intangibles like team chemistry, commitment to detail and resiliency. And while the Isles’ reputation in those hard-to-quantify areas is well-deserved, it can sometimes cause people to gloss over the fact that this is a very strong hockey club.

Expected goals (also known as xG) is a predictive statistic that gives an indication of whether results are based on sustainable factors like a steady creation of scoring chances, or whether it is down to aspects such as shooting luck or outstanding goaltending.

Simply put, an expected goals rate (xGF%) above 50% is considered good because it means a team is creating the majority of the scoring chances. Anything below 50% is usually a sign that a team is struggling to control play. xG numbers and advanced stats cited from Evolving Hockey, MoneyPuck and Natural Stat Trick.

The Islanders finished the regular season with the seventh-best 5-on-5 goal differential, the fourth-best expected goals rate and the third-best high-danger scoring chance rate. Those numbers dipped down the stretch and caused the market to cool off on the Isles, but for the majority of the season the Islanders put up numbers on par with some of the league’s best teams. And this series has been no different, as the Isles have found a way to skate with an elite team.

When all things are equal on the ice, the Islanders have played up to the Lightning’s standards. It may sound strange because there was a point when the Bolts scored 12 straight goals and they won a game, 8-0, but this series has been a dead-heat at 5-on-5:

Goals: Lightning 14, Islanders 10
Expected goals: Lightning 11.28, Islanders 11.83
Shot attempts: Lightning 259, Islanders 247
High-danger scoring chances: Lightning 47, Islanders 49

The Lightning are good enough in the other phases of the game — like goaltending and on the power play — that they don’t need to dominate at 5-on-5 to get separation. Tampa’s power play may be a bit muted without Kucherov, but the Bolts still managed to sport a top-10 power play during the regular season, so staying out of the box will remain paramount if the Islanders want to stay with the Lightning on Friday night.

Betting odds always do a good job of setting the stage for a game, but they don’t tell the whole story.

There really doesn’t feel like a right or wrong bet in this contest. The Lightning are the defending Stanley Cup champions and one of the NHL’s most talented teams. They deserve to be favorites and a -165 moneyline (which implies they win this game about 62.3% of the time) may seem reasonable considering they are at home. But you’d also be hard-pressed to find anyone who would argue with you for backing the League’s dogged underdog in an anything-can-happen Game 7.

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. For some folks, that may mean picking against the Tampa Bay Lightning. For others, it may mean counting out the Islanders just because they’re underdogs.

All we can say for sure is that, no matter who you bet on in Game 7, it promises to be insane.

Michael Leboff covers the NHL and more at The Action Network — a sports media company that builds products and creates content to inform and entertain the sports bettor.

Listen: NHL Fantasy on Ice podcast with guests from The Action Network

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