NHL betting: Could Tampa Bay Lightning really win third straight Stanley Cup?

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The NHL has not had a team win three consecutive Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders accomplished the feat when they won four straight championships from 1980-83. Names like Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies, Billy Smith and Al Arbour are in the Hockey Hall of Fame and those teams will live on in hockey lore as some of the best the sport has ever seen.

Names like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Jon Cooper have a chance of potentially joining that same level this year, as the Tampa Bay Lightning look to win a third straight Stanley Cup. After taking a 2-0 series lead against the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay is now the favorite to come out of the East and has the second-best odds to win the Stanley Cup behind Colorado. Can this group really do it again and accomplish something that hasn't been done in almost 40 years?

The Lightning are doing it as underdogs

Every year, there's a team in the NHL playoffs that oddsmakers aren't buying and you could consistently bet them at plus-money while they make a deep run. In the last two seasons that team was Islanders, and they won five playoff series (if you count the 2020 play-in round) while never being favored to win a series. However, rarely is the team that oddsmakers underestimate a back-to-back defending champion.

The Lightning were underdogs in their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto had the better regular season, and their roster is littered with elite talent. The Leafs had home-ice advantage in the series, so the Lightning were installed as betting underdogs. In the end, Tampa Bay ended up cashing plus-money tickets for bettors who took them on the series line or even just bet them in Game 7.

Entering the second round against the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay was an even bigger underdog and there was heavy steam coming in against the Lightning. The Panthers opened as -125 favorites to win the series, but by the time the puck dropped in Game 1, bettors had moved the line to Florida as a significant -170 favorite to eliminate Tampa Bay and end the quest for a three-peat.

Much like the Leafs, the Panthers feature an explosive offense that averaged nearly 4.2 goals per game in the regular season. They finished with the best record in hockey during the regular season. The Lightning are without Brayden Point due to injury, who is one of their more dynamic players and top scorers. Keeping up with Florida seemed like a tough task.

However, rather than attempting to keep up with the Panthers, they have completely shut Florida down. The Panthers have just two goals through two games in the series. A lot is made about Tampa Bay's explosive offense, and surely it can outscore most teams in the league, but the reason the Lightning have won back-to-back championships is their ability to prevent goals. Andrei Vaseilvskiy has given up just two goals and has posted five shutouts in Tampa Bay's last seven series-clinching games.

Ross Colton scored with under four seconds left in Game 2 to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 win, and a 2-0 series lead. The Panthers were -160 favorites in Game 1 and -165 favorites in Game 2, but the Lightning have cashed as +135 and +140 underdogs in those two games. Tampa Bay has gone from +140 to win the series to currently being a -375 favorite to eliminate the Panthers.

SUNRISE, FL - MAY 19: Ross Colton #79 celebrates with Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning after the game against the Florida Panthers in Game Two of the Second Round of the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the FLA Live Arena on May 19, 2022 in Sunrise, Florida. The Lightning defeated the Panthers 2-1. Colton scored the game winning goal with 3.5 second left in the third period. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Ross Colton scored with under four seconds left in Game 2 to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 series lead in the second round of the NHL playoffs. (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Can it continue for Tampa Bay?

The Lightning have been a bit of a forgotten team this season, which is crazy to think about when you consider their recent success. The Panthers have been favorites in the East basically all season long, while the Colorado Avalanche have been Stanley Cup favorites out West since preseason.

However, bettors do believe in the Lightning. They've received the third-most Stanley Cup bets, behind the two teams mentioned above. Colorado has gotten 27% of the bets, with Florida getting just over 10% and Tampa Bay coming in at just over 7%. The Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers have all received around 6% of bets, while the St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers have gotten just about 3% of all bets.

There are valid reasons for people to doubt the Lightning. First off, winning one Stanley Cup is extremely hard, so winning three straight is a borderline insane proposition. There's a reason it hasn't happened in 40 years. The Lightning also have it even tougher, due to the pandemic moving the NHL calendar around the last few seasons.

After the pandemic paused the league in March of 2020, the return-to-play postseason tournament kicked off in August. The Lightning won their first Stanley Cup in late September of 2020. By January, they were back on the ice for another season, with just a three-month break compared to the usual four. They won their second Cup in July of 2021, and they were back on the ice in October after another shorter-than-normal offseason. The NHL has made it a point to finish these playoffs by the end of June, so if the Lightning pull it off, they would have won three championships in 33 months. Those three months might not seem like a huge deal, but that's a lot of hockey in a condensed, shortened amount of time with three less months to rest and recover.

I did have the Lightning eliminating the Leafs in Round 1, but I thought Florida would end up winning this second-round series. Right now, that doesn't look good. Teams that go up 2-0 in an NHL playoff series as the road team are 84-20 in league history when it comes to closing out the series. If we assume the Lightning end up taking care of the Panthers, we could look toward their potential final two rounds.

The Lightning would be sizable favorites over the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference final, but the series price would be much tighter against the Carolina Hurricanes, who are up 1-0 in the series and significant favorites to advance at -350.

If the Lightning made it to the Stanley Cup final, they would be favored against the St. Louis Blues or Edmonton Oilers. A series against the Calgary Flames would likely be lined closed to a pick'em, and the Lightning would be underdogs in a series against the Colorado Avalanche.

Currently, Tampa Bay is +130 to win the East and +400 to win the Stanley Cup. With the track record of this team, it's hard to criticize taking the the Lightning at those prices. Will they be able to pull it off? That remains to be seen, but they have shown that they're not going to be an easy out in their quest for a third straight ring.

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