Prediction, Preview, and Odds
#45 Chicago Blackhawks 6.5 vs.
#46 Tampa Bay Lightning -260
Wednesday, January 13, 2021 at 8:05pm EST
Amalie Arena, Tampa
Written by Valdis Pans

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Both placed in the newly reshuffled Central Division, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks will face off against each other on the first day of the 2020-21 season, with the traveling ‘Hawks paying a visit to the reigning Stanley Cup champions.

No Crawford, No Party?

Even though the Chicago Blackhawks finished the 2019-20 regular season in the last place of the Central Division (32-30-8), they still made the expanded 24-team postseason, knocked the Edmonton Oilers out of the qualifying round (3-1) and played the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in three years, eventually losing it in five games to the Vegas Golden Knights (1-4). Patrick Kane led the team with 33 goals and 84 points during the regular campaign and added further two strikes and seven assists throughout the postseason. He has picked up 22 points (8 goals, 14 helpers) in 19 previous contests against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Having opted not to re-sign goalie Corey Crawford, who announced his retirement last week, the ‘Hawks will now rely on Malcolm Subban (30-23-7 in his NHL career with a 2.97 GAA and a .899 save percentage) and Collin Delia (7-5-3 with a 3.65 GAA and a .906 save percentage) to keep the cage safe. Neither Delia nor Subban have faced the Bolts before. Chicago, meanwhile, finished last year, scoring the 14th lowest amount of goals per game (2.97), while conceding the 15th highest quantity in its defensive zone (3.06). The team was 4th from the bottom in power play with a 15.2% success rate and 8th in penalty kill with 82.1% efficiency.

Bolts Begin Title Defense

In 2018-19, the Tampa Bay Lightning became only the second team in NHL history to win 62 regular-season games, but ended up being humiliated in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the Columbus Blue Jackets sweeping the series 4-0. Fast forward a year-and-a-half, and the Bolts are the champions! They finished the regular campaign 2nd in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference (43-21-6), overcame the Jackets (4-1), Boston Bruins (4-1) and New York Islanders (4-2) in the first three rounds before beating the Dallas Stars in six contests (4-2) in the Final. Nikita Kucherov, who led the team with 33 goals and 85 points during the regular campaign before adding further 34 points (7 strikes, 27 assists) in the postseason, will miss the entire new regular term due to hip surgery.

Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy will play his seventh season with the Bolts after going 35-14-3 last year with a 2.56 GAA and a .917 save percentage. He produced an 18-7 showing in the playoffs with a 1.90 GAA and a .927 save percentage and has registered a perfect 4-0-0 career tally against the Chicago Blackhawks with a 1.99 GAA and a .941 save percentage. Tampa Bay closed last season, netting the absolute highest number of goals per game (3.47), while giving up the 7th lowest amount on the defensive end (2.77). The team ranked 5th in power play (23.1%) and 13th in penalty kill (81.4%).

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The Blackhawks are not starting the new season in the best of shapes. With both Kirby Dach and Alex Nylander recovering from surgeries, Jonathan Toews missing with an undiagnosed illness, new signing Carl Soderberg unable to join the team due to visa-related issues and no top goalie in the lineup (Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia will share the load between the sticks), the ‘Hawks are not looking too promising. New recruits Nikita Zadorov (Colorado Avalanche), Mattias Janmark (Dallas Stars) and Lucas Wallmark (Florida Panthers) will add some much-needed physical presence. Still, don’t expect a bright start from Chicago - especially against the reigning Stanley Cup champions Lightning, who have already beaten the ‘Hawks on eight of the past nine occasions. Tampa Bay will be without Nikita Kucherov for the whole duration of the upcoming regular season, but has enough firepower to make up for it - especially with Steven Stamkos fit to start from day one. Chicago, on the other hand, has not only struggled against the Bolts lately, but also generally when being on the road, having already dropped its very last four travels.

Prediction: Tampa Bay Lightning (-250)

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The very last four contests between the two sides have all been high-scoring affairs, witnessing a total of 28 goals buried, an average of seven per game. In fact, only two of the past eight outings between Chicago and Tampa Bay have gone below the six-goal mark, with this series averaging 6.38 strikes per fixture on the last eight occasions. Four of the previous five road contests of the Blackhawks have also gone over the total, while nine of the last 12 regular-season games of the Lightning have all seen at least seven snipes on the scoreboard.

Prediction: Over 6
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Written By Valdis Pans , "Valdis Pans"

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