Lightning vs Panthers Prediction for Game 1: NHL Odds, Preview (Sunday, April 21)

Lightning vs Panthers Prediction for Game 1: NHL Odds, Preview (Sunday, April 21) article feature image

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Lightning vs. Panthers Prediction

Sunday, April 21
12:30 p.m. ET
Lightning Odds+148
Panthers Odds-175
Over / Under
-120 / +100
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook. Get up-to-the-minute NHL odds here.

Here's everything you need to know about the Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers on Sunday, April 21 – our expert NHL prediction and pick.

Round 3 of the Battle of the Sunshine State promises to be a doozy.

As the "big brothers" in the matchup, the Lightning prevailed in the first two head-to-head matchups between the two teams, in 2021 and 2022.

But last year, the tide turned. They didn't play each other, but Florida reached the Final while Tampa exited in Round 1.

Does that foreshadow a different outcome in this year’s series — and what will we see in Game 1?

All three games in this regular-season series were played after Christmas, and in all three games, the road side prevailed. The Panthers won 3-2 in late December and 9-2 in mid-February in Tampa, and then the Lightning picked up a 5-3 win in mid-March.

After a nice late-season surge, and with all that playoff experience to draw on, look for the Lightning to show that they've been underestimated by the oddsmakers in Sunday's series opener.

Here's my Lightning vs. Panthers Game 1 prediction and pick.

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning finished the regular season with 98 points – identical to 2022-23, when they were eliminated in six games by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round.

Off the back of Nikita Kucherov’s monster 144-point season that won him the scoring title and made him only the fifth player in NHL history to reach 100 assists, the Lightning scored eight more goals than they did one year ago. They also allowed 14 more — but, considering that starter Andrei Vasilevskiy didn’t make his first start until Nov. 24 after he recovered from back surgery, that final tally actually seems pretty respectable.

And while Vasilevskiy was still the runaway No. 1 choice on the NHLPA poll as the goalie that players would most want on their team in a must-win game, the two-time Stanley Cup winner finished the year with a save percentage of exactly .900 and minus-2.5 goals saved above expected. That’s a far cry from his career average of .917, but he still finished a solid 10 games above .500.

The Lightning ranked 22nd overall in goals against, but their penalty killing was strong and their power play was even better, finishing first overall at 28.6%. That could be an important weapon against a Florida team that led the league in penalty minutes.

In addition to Kucherov, the Lightning enjoyed another strong season from Brayden Point, who potted 46 goals, and Steven Stamkos, who hit 40 for the seventh time in his career. Speedster Anthony Duclair also turned out to be a nice trade-deadline pickup, with 15 points in 17 games, and he's been skating on the first line with Point and Kucherov.

Mikhail Sergachev’s injury absence creates a big hole on the Tampa Bay blue line. After breaking his leg in February, he practiced in a regular jersey for the first time on Saturday. But coach Jon Cooper said last week that he'd be unavailable for at least the first round.

Backup goaltender Jonas Johansson is also not game-ready, so Matt Tomkins will be supporting the workhorse, Vasilevskiy, in Game 1. Beyond that, Victor Hedman, Luke Glendening, Tyler Motte and Haydn Fleury all skated Saturday and should be good to go.

Over the last 25 games of the season, the Lightning were right at the league average at 5-on-5, controlling 50.08% of expected goals. But their record over those 25 games – after Feb. 19 – was an impressive 15-7-3, including an 8-0-1 run right after the March 8 trade deadline.

Florida Panthers

The Panthers have been lurking near the top of the standings for most of the year. They closed out the season with a 5-0-1 run.

They're miserable to play against, with a physical identity that makes it tough on opponents. But in addition to taking the most penalties in the league, they also drew the most. And their special-teams rates are highly respectable. So their propensity for mayhem doesn't necessarily work against them.

The Panthers finished the regular season with a plus-68 goals differential, which was the best in the league. They tied with the Winnipeg Jets as the NHL’s best defensive team, allowing just 2.41 goals per game.

The blue line will get a boost with both Aaron Ekblad and Oliver Ekman-Larsson expected to return from their injuries on Sunday.

Over the last 25 games of the season, the Panthers ranked second in puck possession at 5-on-5, controlling 57.56% of expected goals. But funnily enough, they actually picked up one fewer point than the Lightning during that stretch, with a record of 15-8-2.

While the Panthers are a very tough out on paper, this series should be extremely competitive.

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Lightning vs. Panthers

Betting Pick & Prediction

Plenty of ink has been spilled about Tampa Bay's talent attrition. But the new crew is getting the job done, and it's tough to discount the determination of the core that remains.

As mentioned above, the Lightning and Panthers delivered pretty even results over the last 25 games of the season. So as good as the Panthers have been, Game 1 could be a lot closer to a pick'em than the oddsmakers are suggesting.

They had the Lightning opening at +136, and that number has dropped as long as +148 at Caesars Sportsbook as of Saturday afternoon.

That's the kind of value that makes the road 'dogs a terrific pick to get this series started.

Pick: Lightning moneyline (+148 at Caesars) | Play to +125

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