Andrew Berkshire picks out his four best NHL bets for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final between the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes.
The final four have made themselves known, and the Conference Finals get going tonight. The Eastern Conference Final is first up, with the Florida Panthers looking to knock off their third-straight favoured opponent in the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes have been the stronger team overall by most metrics, but the Panthers have had the tougher opposition, so who has the advantage right now?
Carolina Hurricanes to beat Florida Panthers
This will probably be the most chaotic of any of the games in this series, and even though the Panthers are 7-1 in their last eight games, the Hurricanes have a way of beating down offensively gifted teams, and grinding things to a halt where they’re able to take advantage.
If this first game was in Florida, the Panthers might have won this one while the Hurricanes figure out how to handle their unique brand of chaos, but it’s in Carolina. At home, I think the Hurricanes take Game 1, no matter how the Panthers play them.
Over 6.5 total goals
Game 1 is always a bit of a feeling out process, but while the Hurricanes are a dominant force in all zones, the Panthers have been incredibly opportunistic all playoffs long, showing their scoring depth.
The Hurricanes proved they can keep up with a high-power offence when they took out the New Jersey Devils, so I’d expect this first one to be a bit higher scoring as both teams probe each other for weaknesses.
Brent Burns over 3.5 shots on goal
The gatling gun from the blueline, Burns is a pretty reliable shot taker, and the most reliable from the blueline in the modern game. This postseason his average is just below four shots per game, so this is a pretty safe bet overall.
Burns letting the puck fly from the blueline a bunch also makes sense in Game 1, as the Hurricanes see how Florida reacts to different kinds of pressure.
Matthew Tkachuk to score 1+ points
Despite the fact that the Hurricanes are a very strong team by most measures, one area they haven’t been great is in high danger chances. They’ve allowed the third-most per 60 minutes at 5-vs-5 among all playoff teams this season, with only the Rangers and Kings giving up more.
That area is Tkachuk’s bread and butter. He is arguably the most effective net-front presence in the entire NHL due to his unique combination of agitation, strength, and skill. While most players in that area are focused on tipping in pucks, Tkachuk wins battles and can score or distribute with equal effectiveness. Shutting him down will be key for the Hurricanes.