We once again got the Battle of Florida in the playoffs again this season to determine the winner of the Atlantic Division. I can’t wait to watch these teams battle it out again this season.
These teams played in their first round series last season that was an electric, heated battle with the Lightning winning in six games on their way to their second straight Stanley Cup win.
During the regular season, the Panthers won their first President’s Trophy in franchise history with the best regular season record in the NHL, going 58-18-6. They were an impressive 34-7 on home ice, which they’ll have for the entirety of the playoffs. Florida easily has the best offense in the NHL this season by a significant margin, averaging 4.11 goals per game. The only team in hockey that scored more than 4 goals per game (the Leafs were second in scoring, averaging 3.8 goals per game). The Panthers also had the most shots in the league, an insane 37.3 per game and they had a fourth best in the NHL 11% shooting percentage. They have the fifth best power play in the league, scoring on 24.4% of those chances. Florida was pretty good defensively this season as well, allowing an average of 2.95 goals per game, twelfth fewest in the NHL and they’ve allowed the tenth fewest shots, an average of 30.7 per game. Their two goaltenders, Sergei Bobvrovsky (2.67 GAA, .913 save percentage) and Spencer Knight (2.79 GAA, .908 save percentage) were both decent, but they didn’t really face a ton of pressure when their offense was scoring over four goals per game. Florida had the sixth most penalty minutes in the NHL and killed off 79.5% of those penalties but scored the second most shorthanded goals this season, scoring twelve of them.
I thought Florida was going to easily cruise through their first round matchup against the Capitals but it actually ended up being more competitive than I had expected. After going 1-2 to start the series, they rattled off three wins in a row to end the series in six games and cash my 2.5 unit bet on them to win the series in six games or less with their 4-3 overtime win in Game 6. Even with them winning the series in six games, I was still pretty underwhelmed by the Panthers efforts and that series could have gone quite different with two overtime games going the opposite ways. In the first round, Florida wasn’t great statistically on either end of the ice. They averaged 3.33 goals per game with a 10.1% shooting percentage and allowed an average of 3.17 goals per game. The most glaring issue that the Panthers had in that first round is that they didn’t even score one power play goal, going 0-19 with the man advantage. That’s horrendous, especially considering all the talent that Florida’s offense has. They weren’t great on the penalty kill either against Washington, killing off 70.8% of those chances. Sergei Bobrovsky was a bit shaky in goal during the first round with a 2.79 GAA and .906 save percentage.
The Lightning are looking to become the first team to win three straight Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders won their four in a row from 1980-1983. The extended length of going through four series two years in a row takes its toll on a team which is why I don’t see the Bolts getting it done for a third year in a row. Plus they were way over the salary cap and kept their best players Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos on long term IR for all of last season before activating them for the playoffs. Essentially a legal cheat code that was a key factor in that second Cup win.
The Bolts have had a solid season this year, ending in third place in the Atlantic Division for the regular season with a 41-23-8 record. They had a great stretch to close the regular season, winning seven of their last nine games, many of them in blowouts. They scored an average of 5.66 goals per game in their last six games of the regular season. Tampa’s offense took a slight step back this season after the last two years, but they still were very good, averaging 3.48 goals per game, seventh most in the NHL. They were very efficient in their shooting, generating an average of 29.8 shots per game but having a third best in the NHL 11.2% shooting percentage. The Bolts power play, scoring on 23.9% of those opportunities, eighth most in the NHL. Defensively Tampa has been very good this season as well. They’ve allowed a sixth fewest in the NHL average of 2.78 goals per game and a seventh fewest average of 29.8 shots per game. Andrei Vasilevskiy’s one of the best goalies in the NHL and has a 2.49 GAA and .916 save percentage. The Bolts were one of the most penalized teams in hockey this season with the second most penalty minutes in the NHL but their penalty kill was good, ranking eleventh in the NHL, killing off 80.6% of those penalties and scoring seven shorthanded goals.
The Lightning matched up with the Maple Leafs in the first round, winning the series in seven games to advance. That was an awesome series that turned out to be one of the best of the first round. The Leafs were a tough matchup for the Bolts in the first round but the back to back Cup Champs held them off with the playoff experience and ability to bounce back incredibly from losses. Against the Leafs they continued that amazing run of not losing two games in a row in the playoffs since 2019. In the first round, the Lightning average 3.29 goals per game with a 10.7% shooting percentage. Their power play scored on 21.2% of their chances. They allowed an average of 3.43 goals per game and they killed off 85.7% of their penalties in that series. The Leafs and Lightning had the most penalty minutes in the first round and I don’t expect the Bolts to stay out of the box much more this series which I also think ends up being pretty heated. Andrei Vasilevskiy is one of the best goalies of all time in the playoffs but actually wasn’t great against Toronto with a 3.04 GAA and .897 save percentage.
Brayden Point, one of the Bolts best players is currently “highly doubtful” to play at least in Game 1 and may even miss the whole series with a right leg injury he took in the first period of Game 7 against the Leafs. Point was a huge factor for them in the first round and scored the overtime game winner in Game 6 (picked him to score it) to force Game 7 and not having him in the lineup is a big blow for Tampa.
These teams split their four games during the regular season this year. The Panthers won 4-1 in Tampa on October 19th, the Lightning answered back with a 3-2 win in overtime at home on November 13th, the Panthers blew out the Lightning 9-3 on December 30th at home and then Tampa blew out the Panthers 8-4 on April 24th on the road.
I expect this to be an awesome series. I think there’s going to be a ton of energy in these games between these two in state rivals and these games will likely get very chippy and stay competitive. These teams should match up very well against each other and I think this series ends up going six or seven games regardless of who wins it. I’ll take this series to go over 5.5 games for three units. Picking the winner on this one is tough. I don’t think either team wins the Cup this season. The Lightning have played almost 2.5 seasons in the last two years with their Stanley Cup runs and that extra wear and tear will catch up to them eventually. The Panthers were incredible in the regular season but setting a record for the most comeback wins in a season and coming back from behind in Games 4 and 5 will also catch up to them eventually. I think this series ends up going back and forth, leaning the home team in each game but expecting whoever wins to steal a game. I think the Panthers are the slightly better team but that there’s more value in taking the back to back Cup Champs as a dog at +130. I’ll stay off betting either side of this series and will just play the sides game by game.
I’d lean the overs in this series. In their regular season matchups, the first two games in Tampa both had five total goals and the second two games in Sunrise flew over easily.
Last year the matchups in the playoff series between these teams went 3-3. The Florida offense has immensely improved since that time and I think there will be a lot of penalties in this series that leads to more power plays and more goals.
I think home ice plays a factor in this series and would lean the Panthers win Game 1 with an extra two days of rest but not enough to bet on it. I’ll take the over for 1.5 units.
3u Panthers/Lightning over 5.5 games (-167)
Game 1 Bets
1.5u Panthers/Lightning over 6.5 (-130)