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Zibanejad's playmaking to shine vs. Panthers

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The puck drops for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday night. Let's look at a few of the best ways to attack the series opener.

Mika Zibanejad: Over 0.5 assists

Zibanejad's a very dangerous goal-scorer, particularly on the power play. But it's his playmaking that's causing opponents the most problems of late.

He's in the midst of an unbelievable assist streak having picked up at least one apple in 14 of his past 15 games dating back to the regular season.

With Chris Kreider scoring at will, Zibanejad, whose one-timer is understandably respected in power-play situations, has a lot of incentive to distribute the puck.

Furthermore, Zibanejad has tallied at least one assist in 60% of his home games this season, including his last meeting with these same Panthers.

Odds: -105 (playable to -130)

Matthew Tkachuk: Under 3.5 shots

Tkachuk has had a difficult time generating shots against the Rangers. He attempted six shots or fewer in the last eight head-to-head meetings.

His shot volume is also noticeably lower when playing on the road, as he averaged 3.8 shots on 6.9 attempts in Florida this season but just 3.4 shots on 5.7 attempts away from home.

The difference was even more drastic after the calendar flipped to 2024. Tkachuk averaged 7.1 attempts per game at home and just 5.2 on the road.

He sees tougher matchups away from home - Paul Maurice tends to use the Aleksander Barkov line against the opposing team's best units in Florida - and the Rangers should be able to keep Tkachuk's shot volume down in this game.

Odds: -130 (playable to -145)

Jacob Trouba: Over 3.5 blocked shots

Trouba is a shot-blocking machine. He recorded at least four blocks in eight of his last 10 games and all five playoff games in New York thus far.

He's showing a remarkably consistent floor and ceiling, which will continue against the Panthers.

They are an excellent volume-shooting team and averaged just under 68 attempts per 60 minutes in the regular season, slotting them only behind the Hurricanes.

Trouba spends a ton of time chasing play in the defensive zone - no player remaining in the playoffs has been on the ice for more shot attempts against per minute - and an elite shot-generating team like the Panthers should lead to an abundance of blocking opportunities.

Odds: -110 (playable to -150)

Todd Cordell is a sports betting writer at theScore. You can follow him on X at @ToddCordell.

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