The Battle of Florida kicks off the Central Division playoffs as the #2 seed Florida Panthers face off against their in state rival #3 seed Tampa Bay Lightning for Game 1 tonight.
The defending Stanley Cup Champion Bolts had a decent season going 36-17-3 without two of their star players Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. Per head coach Jon Cooper, Kuch and Stammer are back and healthy for the playoffs. That’s almost like they acquired two superstars going into the “season that counts”.
Florida has been a fantastic surprise this season, securing the #2 seed in the Central Division with a 37-14-5 record. They’re coming in hot to the playoffs with ten wins in their last twelve games and six straight wins coming into today’s Game 1.
In the regular season, Florida winning the last two games between these teams gave them home ice advantage in this series, winning the season series 5-3. There’s been some excellent games through out this series with all but one game being decided by more than a goal and the over going 6-2 in the regular season. Statistically these two teams match up pretty closely as Florida averages more goals for (both teams more than league average) and more goals against.
In the playoffs, I’d give the slight edge to Tampa in this series with much more playoff experience in the last several years and with a big goaltending edge with Vezina candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy vs. Sergei Bobrovsky or Chris Dreidger for Florida. Tampa has a lot more depth too with a much deeper lineup and scoring power in their second and third lines.
I don’t really expect either of these teams to win the Stanley Cup this season. It’s insanely difficult to win the Cup two years in a row, especially with how difficult it was for Tampa to win it last year in the bubble. Like I said in my blog recapping the Cup last season, I think last year’s Stanley Cup was the most difficult to win in history with all the factors surrounding it and that takes a toll on a team.
The line on this series is Tampa at -165, which I don’t see any value to. Although I’d lean the Lightning win this series, I think there’s more value to Florida at that price, so I’ll be staying off any series bets on this game. As this series moves forward I may jump on and bet it game by game.