Thursday NHL betting preview: Betting a pair of Central Division matchups

Scott Audette / National Hockey League / Getty

It may be a short season, but it feels like things are really dragging along right now as we creep toward the playoffs. Condensed schedules and the repetition of playing the same opponents have players often looking tired and disengaged, which makes betting these games even more difficult.

Still, we're managing to keep our heads above water this year with a 114-106 (+6.24 units) record heading into Thursday's slate.

Panthers (+130) @ Lightning (-150)

(Note: Chris Driedger was later confirmed as the Panthers’ starter, but this is still a bet on the Lightning.)

The Lightning would probably be running away with the Central Division if they could get any sort of quality goaltending behind Andrei Vasilevskiy. Curtis McElhinney hasn't provided anything close, as Tampa is 13-3-0 since the beginning of March in Vasilevskiy starts and 1-5-1 when anyone else is in net.

Vasilevskiy is confirmed as tonight's starter after McElhinney started the 7-2 loss Tuesday, and that makes the Lightning excellent value in a bounce-back spot on home ice. This should also be a Sergei Bobrovsky start for the Panthers - the lesser of their two goalies - as Chris Driedger hasn't started back-to-back games since February.

So we're getting a significant goaltending edge with the better roster, and while the price may seem expensive, it's still too short. The Panthers have actually come back down to earth over the last three weeks, with pedestrian marks of 49.94 xGF% and 51.57 CF% at five-on-five over that span, while the Lightning continue to tick along with a 52.35 xGF% and 54.73 CF%. Lay it with the hosts here.

Pick: Lightning (-150)

Blackhawks (-160) @ Red Wings (+140)

(Note: Kevin Lankinen was later confirmed as the Blackhawks’ starter.)

This bet hinges on Jonathan Bernier starting for the Red Wings. Assuming he's in net, then we're getting great value with the hosts here. Detroit has actually played some pretty good hockey over the last little bit, managing a 5-3-2 record over its previous 10 despite eight of those games coming against the top-four teams in the division (two each against the Lightning, Hurricanes, Panthers, and Predators).

And the Red Wings' underlying metrics support that record, as they're seventh in the NHL with a 52.7 xGF% at five-on-five over their last 10 games. Their 46.7 CF% over that span is below league average but still better than what the Blackhawks managed. Chicago has posted a 44.51 xGF% and 44.28 CF% over its last 10 games - both bottom-five marks in the NHL over that span.

The Blackhawks have largely been riding their luck and are due for regression, with Kevin Lankinen often bailing them out of bad performances. However, Lankinen has started seven straight games and clearly needs rest. It's possible we see Malcolm Subban start tonight for the Blackhawks, or it'll be a tired and overworked Lankinen. Either way, as long as Bernier starts, the Red Wings are worth backing in this spot.

Pick: Red Wings (+140)

Alex Moretto is theScore's supervising editor of sports betting. A journalism graduate from Guelph-Humber University, he has worked in sports media for over a decade. He will bet on anything from the Super Bowl to amateur soccer, despises how the NHL handles starting goalie announcements, and will never trust a kicker. Find him on Twitter @alexjmoretto.

Thursday NHL betting preview: Betting a pair of Central Division matchups
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