NHL Playoffs Round 1: Free NHL Picks Today for Thursday, May 20th, 2021

NHL Playoffs Round 1: Free NHL Picks Today for Thursday, May 20th, 2021
Thu 20th May 2021

The 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are in full swing! With 4 more epic games on the agenda today, we have spent the morning researching each fixture in depth to bring you the absolute best predictions. Have a read below for all our NHL picks.

Florida Panthers @ Tampa Bay Lightning (Game 3) – 6.30 PM EDT

Following the completion of games’ 1 and 2 at the BB&T Center, the Panthers and the Lightning make the trip across Florida for games’ 3 and 4, where the Amalie Arena will play host to the bitter rivals.

With back to back nail biting wins under their belt, the Lightning have got the hard part out of the way, and will now be returning to their home ground feeling confident.

After a 5-4 thriller in the first game, the two teams were more subdued in the second, taking nearly 20 less shots for the game. Steven Stamkos opened the scoring 5 minutes into the first term, and by the end of the period the Lightning were up 2-0 thanks to Ondrej Palat, assisted by the heroes of game 1, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point. 

The Panthers rallied in the second term, pulling the deficit back to just 1 goal through Mason Marchment, but no matter what they threw at Andre Vasilevskiy in net, they couldn’t find the equaliser, with Yanni Gourde eventually putting the puck into an empty net to put the game to bed at 3-1.

It was the first goal of the playoffs for all scorers, but it was the performance of Vasilevskiy that stole the show, allowing just a single goal from 33 Panthers’ attempts, operating at 97% save percentage, proving why he is the bookies favourite to take home the Vezina trophy. 

Starting the playoff series away from home is a big hurdle to climb, but having now won both fixtures, albeit in a tight fashion, you have to like the Lightning to return to their fortress and keep that form going today. 

NHL Pick – Tampa Bay Lightning (-144)
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Pittsburgh Penguins @ New York Islanders (Game 3) – 7.00 PM EDT

In what has been a common occurrence in the playoffs so far, the Penguins edged out the Islanders by a goal to level the series at 1-1, the 7th game of 14 that has been settled by just a goal during round 1.

With the score tied up the series moves to New York for the next 2 games, where the Islanders will make their case for being the strongest home-playing team in the competition. 

After dropping the first game 4-3, it was absolutely crucial that the Penguins salvaged a win in game 2, and thanks to a 2 goal first term they did just that, keeping the Islanders to just 1 goal for the rest of the match to win 2-1.

Just like game 1 it was a fast paced affair, with the Penguins taking 45 shots to the Islanders 38, calling for solid goaltending on either side of the ice, both Semyon Varlamov and Tristan Jarry were up for it, but it was Jarry that made the difference, allowing just 1 goal from 38 attempts, making up for his questionable performance in game 1.

Jeff Carter and Bryan Rust bagged the goals for the Penguins, the first point of Rust’s playoff campaign and the second for Carter, while Josh Bailey struck the lone goal for the Islanders.

With that important roadtrip win in hand, the Islanders will be eager to head back to the Nassau Coliseum for games’ 3 and 4. Their defensive setup shone through last game, and even though he conceded more goals, Semyon Varlamov impressed with 43 saves, now playing in front of the fans their defense should be dialled in, expect another low scoring affair with a tight win for the Islanders.

NHL Pick – New York Islanders (-122)
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Montreal Canadiens @ Toronto Maple Leafs (Game 1) – 7.30 PM EDT

Following the Jets surprise win over the Oilers yesterday, the Canadiens will be looking to keep that theme going in Toronto today for game 1 of their first round series with the Maple Leafs.

The Habs have struggled of late, closing out the regular season on a season high 5 loss streak, including a 2 game sweep at the hands of the Maple Leafs, and a most recent 2 game sweep to the Oilers, losing both games 4-3 in overtime.

The Canadiens dip in form was such that it looked like their spot in the playoffs could be taken, fortunately, the bottom table teams failed to threaten, allowing the Habs to claim 4th place.

The 4th place finish pitted the Habs against the long-time rivals, and fellow original 6 team, the Maple Leafs, in a playoff clash that has not happened for 40 years, and is likely to get messy. 

The Maple Leafs have been the far and away better side between the two this season, not only did they claim the division title with a record of 35-14-7, but also convincingly lead the head to head against the Habs by 7-3.

Mitchell Marner and Auston Matthews have been crucial to their success, and the pair finished the season strong, with Marner notching 13 points over his last 10 games, and Matthews scoring a goal in 6 of the final 8 games. 

The pair combined for 10 points during the Maple Leafs first round exit in last year’s postseason, and it is safe to say that their success this time around will hinge on their continued success.

Despite claiming the bulk of the wins on the head to head, when playing at home the Maple Leafs edged the Habs out by just a goal in 3 of the 4 games. When at their best, the Canadiens are a very strong team, we don’t see them taking out game 1, but expect them to keep this series tight. 

NHL Pick – Toronto Maple Leafs (-210)
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Vegas Golden Knights @ Minnesota Wild (Game 3) – 9.30 PM EDT

Following their 1-0 defeat on Sunday the Golden Knights redeemed themselves in game 2 against the Wild, winning 3-1 on Tuesday to tie the series up before they head to Minnesota.

It was a must win game for the Knights, which have historically struggled against the Wild this season, and after conceding the first goal midway through the second term, things didn’t look too good for the Vegas side.

However, it took just 20 seconds after the reset for the Knights to reply with a goal of their own through Jonathan Marchessault, and 3 minutes prior to the end of the period Alex Tuch added another to take the lead for the first time of the series.

The Wild took 7 more shots than the Knights, but were unable to find the equalising goal thanks to a brilliant performance in net from Marc-Andre Fleury. The Minnesota side eventually piled bodies forward in a bid to find another goal, allowing Alex Tuch to bury the puck into an empty net and notch his second goal of the game. 

With that crucial away win secured, the Wild now welcome the Knights to the Xcel Energy Centre for games’ 3 and 4. The Knights have lost more games away to the Wild this season than they have to any other side in the division (3), however, they may be getting a big boost in the form of a return by Max Pacioretty to the lineup.

The Knights were the better team in game 2, and showed how dominant they can be in the final period. They have struggled playing away against the Wild this season, but they are a playoff experienced side, and should still be winning this fixture, especially if they can shut down Kirill Kaprizov again. 

NHL Pick – Vegas Golden Knights (-118)
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The 2021 NHL is well underway now! If you want to catch up with all the latest information, make sure you visit our NHL hub page.

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*Odds and spreads correct at time of publication, courtesy of FanDuel.

Connor is a passionate writer and sporting fanatic, with a focus on all things soccer, NBA, and NHL. Happy to chew your ear off about his beloved Tottenham Hotspur, or talk odds on the latest ball game. Connor always delivers the latest in breaking news, matchday analysis and predictions.