Lightning vs. Panthers NHL Odds & Pick: Back Powerful Tampa Bay Against In-State Rival (Saturday, May 8)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images. Pictured: Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Lightning vs. Panthers Odds
|Time||Saturday, 7 p.m. ET|
|Odds as of Friday night via DraftKings.|
There is a chance we could see the battle of Florida between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers for nine consecutive games down the stretch.
The Sunshine state squads will finish the season with a pair of games Saturday and Monday, then face each other in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time ever.
The teams are currently tied in the standings with 75 points, so the final two matchups will decide who has home-ice advantage for their first-round battle.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The defending Stanley Cup champions have the fourth-best odds (+700) to win the Cup for the second consecutive year. The Lightning have one of the best offenses in the league, sitting six in the NHL with 3.34 goals per game.
Tampa Bay also benefits from having the No. 1 goaltender in the entire league. Andrei Vasilevskiy should be a slam dunk to take home his second Vezina Trophy. He leads the NHL with 31 wins (against just eight losses), sporting a .928 save percentage and 2.10 goals against average, both career-best marks.
The Lightning will be playing the second half of a back-to-back set after a meeting with the Dallas Stars on Friday. With Curtis McElhinney starting, we should see Vasilevskiy and that gives Tampa Bay a big goaltending advantage.
Vasilevskiy isn’t the only one who could add a piece of hardware to his collection this year. Defenseman Victor Hedman is one of the top candidates for his second Norris Trophy, awarded to the best defenseman. Hedman is tied for fourth among all defenseman in points. The Tampa Bay duo of Hedman and Erik Černák rank fifth among regular pairings with 61.8 xG percentage.
Despite playing the entire season without Nikita Kucherov, and most of the season without captain Steven Stamkos, the Lightning still rank fifth in the league with a 53.57 xGF percentage. Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat have played together for the fifth-most minutes of any teammates, combining for 38 goals and 93 points.
After earning at least a point in their first eight games of the season, I think a lot of people kept waiting for the Panthers to hit a bump in the road and fall off at some point.
Well, they just never did. Florida is 35-14-5 this season and currently has its best point percentage in franchise history. The club enters the weekend 8-2 in its last 10 games, boasting the league’s longest active win streak at four consecutive games.
The Panthers rank just behind the Lightning in scoring at seventh, with 3.31 points per game. Florida’s 54.16 xGF% is fourth in the league, which is just a tick better than Tampa Bay’s number. The Panthers also sit seventh in High Dancer Scoring Chance percentage at 53.86 on the season.
Florida has gotten terrific campaigns from forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. Barkov sits eighth in the league with 26 goals, with Buberdeau in 10th with 59 points. They are the two most common answers to the question, “Who is the most underrated player in the NHL?” That probably makes them no longer underrated and just universally agreed really good.
Sergei Bobrovski will start in goal for Florida. Despite a respectable 18-8-2 record, his .904 save percentage and 2.97 goals against average rank 40th and 44th among all goaltenders with at least 10 starts.
Betting Analysis & Pick
The Lightning appeared to throw on autopilot for a stretch, as they tend to do late in the season. However, with the playoffs just around the corner and only two regular-season games left, they have turned it back on. Tampa Bay is 7-2-1 in its last 10 games, plus they still want home-ice advantage in the first round.
Both of these offenses have been terrific, ranking in the top 10 in goals per game and xGF percentage. The ability to put the puck in the net is probably about even and a wash between these two squads.
Yet, the ability to keep the puck out of the net? That’s where I feel Tampa Bay has the biggest edge. Vasilevskiy leads the NHL with 22.8 GSAx, with Bobrovsky ranking 53rd at -8.9 GSAx in the category. Both goaltenders are 2-2 against each other, but Vasilevskiy has allowed 2.78 goals per outing compared to Bobrovsky and his 3.79 goals/game average.
Florida comes into this game a little banged up. Carter Verhaeghe, Sam Bennett and Patric Hornqvist all missed the Panthers’ last game. And with the playoffs starting next week, they might not be rushed back.
I think we are getting Tampa Bay at a discounted price here, because of the back-to-back spot. Well, the Lightning have played seven back-to-backs this season and have won the second game five times. The two losses came without Vasilevskiy in net.
Tampa Bay saved its star goaltender for the second game, knowing it’s more important for the positioning in the standings. That said, I will back the better goaltending at a solid price.
Pick: Tampa Bay ML (-108 ) — play up to -115