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Lightning vs. Panthers Game 1 Odds & Betting Preview: Florida Teams Start First-Round Series (May 16)

Lightning vs. Panthers Game 1 Odds & Betting Preview: Florida Teams Start First-Round Series (May 16) article feature image

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images. Pictured: Jonathan Huberdeau (L) and Andrei Vasilevskiy.

  • Tampa heads to south to take on intra-state rival Florida to start Game 1 of their playoff series.
  • The Lightning are the defending Stanley Cup champions, but the Panthers are the favorite with home ice.
  • Carol Schram explains below why she is backing the Panthers tonight and for the series.

Lightning vs. Panthers Odds

Lightning Odds-125
Panthers Odds+109
TimeSunday 7:30 p.m. ET
Odds as of Saturday and via DraftKings.

The first-ever Battle of the Sunshine State features the defending Stanley Cup champion squaring off against a rival that hasn’t won a playoff series in 25 years.

But it’s the Florida Panthers who hold home-ice advantage, as well as a 5-2-1 edge in the season series. And while the odds suggest that the Lightning are the favorites, there’s good reason to think a bet on the Panthers in Game 1 could pay off.

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Are The Panthers For Real?

Now in their second season under head coach Joel Quenneville, the Panthers took a giant step forward. They finished the season high up in nearly every five-on-five statistical category, including third overall in expected goal differential per 60 minutes played.

Bill Zito took over as general manager before this season, and has done a savvy job of building around core forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Patric Hornqvist brings grit and veteran leadership as a two-time Stanley Cup winner. Carter Verhaeghe also got into eight playoff games with the Lightning last summer before jumping to a new level with his 18-goal performance with the Panthers this season.

Aaron Ekblad was in the conversation for the Norris Trophy when he broke his leg at the end of March, but the Panthers have barely missed a beat since their top defenseman went down. A deep group saw 13 blueliners get into games for Florida this year.

By season’s end, MacKenzie Weegar had doubled his previous best with 36 points, waiver-pickup Gustav Forsling had evolved into a shutdown specialist, and trade-deadline acquisition Brandon Montour helped fill the void left by Ekblad’s absence.

But Sam Bennett was arguably the deadline’s best pickup. After struggling to establish himself as an everyday player during six seasons in Calgary, Bennett found his game immediately in South Florida, recording 15 points and three game-winning goals in his first 10 games. Bennett’s robust playing style is especially well-suited to the playoffs, so don’t be surprised if he takes his game up another notch.

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Expected goals (also known as xG) is a predictive statistic that gives an indication of whether results are based on sustainable factors like a steady creation of scoring chances, or whether it is down to aspects such as shooting luck or outstanding goaltending.

Simply put, an expected goals rate (xGF%) above 50% is considered good because it means a team is creating the majority of the scoring chances. Anything below 50% is usually a sign that a team is struggling to control play.

xG numbers and advanced stats cited from Evolving Hockey, MoneyPuck and Natural Stat Trick.

Can The Lightning Repeat?

The Lightning enter the postseason with the swagger of champions, but the NHL’s parity makes it extremely difficult to repeat. Since the salary cap was introduced in 2004-05, only the Pittsburgh Penguins have done so (2016-17).

Over the last decade, it’s been commonplace for defending champions to fall in the first round. It happened to the last two winners before the Lightning — the St. Louis Blues (2020) and the Washington Capitals (2019) — as well as the Chicago Blackhawks after two of their three recent Cups (2011 and 2016). The Boston Bruins were also first-round losers in 2012 after their Cup win, and the Los Angeles Kings failed to make the playoffs entirely after winning their second championship in 2014.

And while the Lightning return to playoff action with most of their championship lineup intact, there are plenty of health questions swirling around Jon Cooper’s team.

In goal, they’re strong, with Andrei Vasilevskiy finishing the season with a league-leading 31 wins and a solid .925 save percentage. But is there any significance to Vasilesvkiy giving up nine goals over two games as the Lightning wrapped up their season with back-to-back losses to the Panthers? And what happens if the workhorse is injured? Vasilevskiy played every minute of the postseason for Tampa Bay last summer.

Last year’s playoff run was also anchored by defenseman Victor Hedman, who was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, and forward Nikita Kucherov, who finished as the playoffs’ leading scorer. The Lightning have revealed that Hedman has been playing through a lower-body injury that will require offseason surgery, while Kucherov has missed the entire regular season after undergoing hip surgery.

Kucherov has been skating since mid-March, so certainly he’s not being rushed, but don’t be surprised if it takes a few games for the impressive sniper to get his timing back.

After missing all but one game of last year’s playoffs, captain Steven Stamkos is expected to be ready for Game 1 after missing a month with a lower-body injury. Forward Barclay Goodrow is the only regular who’s not expected to be in the lineup on Sunday; he missed the last game of the regular season with an upper-body injury and is expected to be out for at least another week.

Lightning vs. Panthers Best Bet

Goals For per 60 minutes (5-on-5)2.682.53
Goals Against per 60 (5-on-5)2.12.2
Goal Differential per 60 (5-on-5)+0.57+0.32
Expected Goals per 60 (5-on-5)2.572.33
Expected Goals Against per 60 (5-on-5)2.112.05
Expected Goal Differential per 60 (5-on-5)0.460.28
High-Danger Scoring Chances per 60 (5-on-5)10.1610.23
High-Danger Scoring Chances Allowed per 60 (5-on-5)8.769.74
Power Play %20.5%22.4%
Penalty Kill %79.8%84.2%
Expected Save Percentage94.34%94.02%
Save Percentage (starting goalie).906.925
Goals Saved Above Expectation (starting goalie)-2.56+19.4

The Panthers may not have postseason success as a team, but Coach Quenneville certainly does. His first championship came as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche back in 1996 — against Florida. And the last of his three Stanley Cup rings with the Blackhawks came against Jon Cooper and the Lightning, a six-game win in 2015.

If you’re favoring the Lightning due to a Vasilevskiy vs. Bobrovsky goaltending matchup, I invite you to remember back to two years ago. Bobrovsky’s Columbus Blue Jackets stunned the Presidents’ Trophy winning-Lightning in a four-game sweep.

Quenneville has options in net, after backup Chris Driedger and rookie Spencer Knight both delivered outstanding performances this season. But it makes sense that he’s tapping Bobrovsky for Game 1 to see if he can rekindle that magic from two years ago.

Over the season, the Lightning bested the Panthers in their special teams numbers, but head-to-head, the two clubs are much more even. Florida went 5-for-32 against Tampa Bay this year, while the Lightning were 5-for-29 against the Panthers, and gave up one shorthanded goal.

Referees tend to put their whistles in their pockets once the playoffs begin, which can hurt teams that are overly reliant on power-play scoring. That’s not the case for either of these teams, who are among the league’s most effective at 5-on-5.

The Panthers are the betting underdog, but the statistical favourite, and hold home-ice advantage in the series. There’s definitely value here.

Pick: Bet the Panthers down to even money to win Game 1 on home ice, and to win the series.

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