NHL Odds, Preview, Prediction: Lightning vs. Panthers (Dec. 30)

NHL Odds, Preview, Prediction: Lightning vs. Panthers (Dec. 30) article feature image

Mike Carlson/Getty Images. Pictured: Brayden Point.

Lightning vs. Panthers Odds

Lightning Odds+115
Panthers Odds-135
Time7 p.m. ET
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute NHL Odds here.

Fasten your seatbelts. The Battle of Florida is set to resume on Thursday night in Sunrise.

On the way to their second-straight Stanley Cup last spring, the Tampa Bay Lightning took out the Florida Panthers in an epic first-round playoff series. So far this season, the teams have met twice in Tampa. The Panthers picked up a 4-1 win in October, then dropped a 3-2 overtime decision in November.

With both teams getting their rosters back in order following the NHL's extended holiday break, here's why you should feel comfortable backing the road underdogs to reverse that trend on Thursday night.

Shorthanded Lightning Still Thriving

The Lightning returned from their holiday break with a come-from-behind 5-4 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, despite having coach Jon Cooper, both their goalies and a handful of other additional players all in COVID protocol.

After missing 14 games with an upper body injury, forward Brayden Point stormed back onto the scene with a pair of goals, and he probably still has upside as he shakes off his rust. In net, AHL call-up Maxime Lagace held the fort against a determined Montreal team, making 27 saves.

At this point, it's unclear how the goaltending situation will shake out against the Panthers, especially with the NHL's announcement on Wednesday that isolation periods for players who test positive can be shortened from 10 days to five, under certain circumstances.

The Lightning could turn back to Lagace. Perhaps Andrei Vasilevskiy or Brian Elliott will be available, depending on when they first tested positive.

Jon Cooper's time in COVID protocols should also nearly be up but in his case, it's not as big a concern. The Lightning have won both their games while he has been absent from the bench and will be looking for their fifth straight victory here.

Panthers Used the Christmas Break Well

The Panthers were a little late in getting back to work on Tuesday, but a three-goal third period gave them a 4-3 home win over the New York Rangers.

Not only did captain Aleksander Barkov return from injury against the Rangers, but forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman Mackenzie Weegar were also released from COVID protocol.

Suddenly, a lineup that was decimated before the holiday break looked whole again. And the Panthers won for a league-high fourth time this season when they'd been trailing after two periods.

Sergei Bobrovsky got the win against the Rangers, making 29 saves. That means it's likely that Spencer Knight will get the nod in net against the Lightning.

Knight's last outing was an 8-2 home loss to the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 14, albeit with a very thin lineup in front of him. He should fare better now that the Florida skaters are getting healthier.

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Panthers vs. Lightning Pick

The Panthers will have home-ice advantage and are coming off a nice comeback win over the Rangers. They'll also be on the back-to-back, though, while Tampa Bay has had an extra day of rest.

The line has moved in the Panthers' favor since betting opened, and a lot could depend on the Lightning's goaltending situation. Florida's high-powered offensive machine will deliver a tougher test than the lowly Canadiens.

But don't discount the experience factor for a Lightning team that has weathered adversity and uncertainty again and again in earning its two Stanley Cups. Lately, even in tough circumstances, Lightning players have been demonstrating that they know how to do just enough to win.

The Panthers have shown signs of similar grit and resilience, but they're still the little brothers in this battle. While they were faltering during its COVID issues before Christmas, Tampa Bay was climbing back to the top of the NHL standings.

Check the goaltending information that emerges from Thursday's morning skate. If it doesn't spook you, go ahead and back the Lightning on the moneyline, in a rare underdog situation

Pick: Lightning (+115); play down to even money

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