Just when it looked as though the reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning would have an easy time advancing in the second round against Carolina, the Hurricanes finally notched an overtime win and made this into real battle.
With the Lightning now up 2 games to 1 in the best-of-seven series, Game 4 will go a long way towards determining if Carolina's win on Thursday night was a fluke, or they're now back in the series to stay and will claw back and make this into a fierce rivalry that goes 6 or perhaps 7 games.
They'll drop the puck in Tampa at 4 pm EST on Saturday.
The last shot between these two Central Division teams saw Jordan Staal score on a power play at 5:57 of OT to give the 'Canes a 3-2 victory over the Lightning. But the biggest decision that might have made the key difference in Game 3 was Carolina coach Rob Brind'Amour changing goaltenders for this "must win" game, opting for Petr Mrazek after Alex Nedeljkovic had started the first eight games of the playoffs. Mrazek played wonderfully. He stopped 35 shots.
Carolina was the slightly better team during the 2021 regular season (80 pts. to 75). But this isn't the same 'Canes' team on the ice for Game 4. Carolina center Vincent Trocheck missed the previous game and his status for the remainder of the serious is unknown. Trocheck left late in the second period of Game 2 after colliding with teammate Warren Foegle. Trocheck was already doubtful for Game 3 and the Hurricanes' second leading scorer during the regular season did not dress for pregame warmup.
Already without Nino Niederreiter, the 'Canes also lost forward Warren Foegle to an upper-body injury in the second period after he collided with Tampa Bay defenseman Erik Cernak. Foegle left the ice holding his shoulder.
Oddsmakers like the Tampa Bay Lightning to take care of business on their home ice. Although the road team has won each of the three games in this series, that should change today as Tampa Bay is laying -150 (or +130 if you like Carolina to win). The O/U is 5.5 goals, shaded heavily to the UNDER.
Prediction: Each of the three playoff games has been a one-goal differential. So, it's tempting to take the 'Canes on the puckline (+1.5).
However, the stronger play appears to be a wager on the total. This O/U could easily be 5 goals shaded to the OVER, but it's still 5.5 with a -140 lay price if we wager on the UNDER. I see value in that number.
All three Carolina-Tampa Bay games have gone under the total. Goaltending on both sides has been consistently good, even with the 'Canes' switch in the net. As long as we can get a 5.5 in a series where the most number of goals scored by any team was 3 (and that took OT), we can fade this number. Add some Carolina injuries, and the Lightning's tendency to play UNDERS (5 straight under the number), and this makes for a solid wager. A day game might help, as well.
Final Score Forecast: Tampa Bay 3, Carolina 2