Stanley Cup Finals Preview: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Stanley Cup Finals Preview:  Chicago Blackhawks vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

The Stanley Cup Finals will begin on Wednesday night in the ‘Cigar City’ as the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Chicago Blackhawks. Both teams are coming off of hard fought seven game series in their respective conference finals. Tampa Bay upset the favored New York Rangers while the Blackhawks did the same thing to the Anaheim Ducks. Interestingly, both teams won game seven on ‘enemy ice’. The Lightning are making their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals since their championship run in 2004 and only their second overall. The Blackhawks are going for the sixth Stanley Cup in franchise history and the third in the past seven years.

Sometimes the best way to handicap a sporting event is to ‘listen to the line’. More specifically, you can get a sense of how the bookmaking community valuates the teams involved by dissecting the prices they post. That’s a crucial concept here and tells us that the guys on the other side of the counter think that the Blackhawks are substantially better. Tampa Bay has home ice advantage by virtue of finishing with a better regular season record. They’re a -125 favorite over the Blackhawks in Game One–but Chicago is a -140 favorite to win the series. This fact is even more significant since Tampa Bay had the best home ice record in the NHL this season, have home ice advantage in this series and are still a significant underdog.

The dissenting voice might suggest that the series price reflects Chicago’s status as a ‘public’ team and that the Game One price is more indicative of the ‘true odds’ of the series. It’s not far from the pricing of Game Seven of the Anaheim series–the Ducks also had home ice advantage but the series price was ‘pick’em’. There might be some ‘public perception’ baked into the line but in my view it’s not especially significant. That leaves us with the conclusion that in a series where the Blackhawks’ opponent has home ice advantage that the linesmaker thinks that the Lightning are substantially weaker than were the Ducks.

Don’t make the mistake of handicapping this series based on head to head results from the regular season where Tampa has won 3 of the last 4 head to head including two straight and 7 of the last 10 at home. The Blackhawks are the better team and–more importantly–a well tested playoff commodity.