Presidents’ Trophy-Winning Panthers Again Face Defending Champs
There was a time when hockey insiders needed some convincing that hockey would work in football-crazy Florida.
Atlanta’s franchise never had the popularity of the other professional sports in the city so why would things be different with franchises in Miami and Tampa? Anybody checking out the second-round series between the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and the favored Florida Panthers has a firsthand look at how hockey has grabbed hold of fans in the Sunshine State.
The recent playoff history of the franchises couldn’t be more different. Florida hadn’t won a playoff series since 1996 before dispatching the Washington Capitals in six games while Tampa Bay is trying to become the first team since the New York Islanders in the early 1980s to win three straight Stanley Cup titles. None of that matters in the Lightning vs Panthers series preview.
Both the Panthers and Lightning had to erase deficits in their first-round series to set up a showdown between the teams in the second postseason in a row.
The Panthers open with -135 odds to advance to the Eastern Conference final and end Tampa Bay’s bid for a third straight NHL title.
Lightning vs Panthers Game Information
- Matchup: Lightning (51-23-8 in the regular season), Panthers (58-18-6)
- Location: FLA Live Arena (Games 1 and 2 as well as Games 5 and 7 if necessary), Amalie Arena (Games 3 and 4, also Game 6 if necessary)
- Day/Time: Series starts on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET
- Television: TNT (for Game 1)
Lightning Hoping for 3-Peat
When looking at the Lightning vs Panthers series preview, keep in mind that just a year ago the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers set up the first playoff matchup between Florida-based teams since a 1999 NFL showdown between the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Nikita Kucherov made his return to the ice a memorable one with three goals and eight assists in six games against Florida, drawing cries from opposing fan bases that the Lightning circumvented the salary cap rules.
Andrei Vasilevskiy made sure the series would not go the distance as he made 29 saves in a 4-0 win as the Lightning won in six games to start their march to a second straight Stanley Cup title.
According to the Las Vegas odds, Florida (+350) has the second-best odds to win the Stanley Cup while Tampa Bay is third at +600. Tampa Bay’s odds could change depending on the availability of second-line center Brayden Point moving forward.
How They Got Here
The only team to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs while being outscored – so far – are the Tampa Bay Lightning which needed overtime in Game 6 and another one-goal win in Game 7 to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs. While the NHL betting lines favored Toronto once the Maple Leafs went up 3-2 in the series, the playoff pedigree of the Lightning showed itself once again. That set up a matchup with Florida in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s next game.
Florida joined St. Louis and Colorado as the only teams not requiring seven games to advance. The Panthers took out the playoff-tested Washington Capitals in six games. Florida had lost its last six playoff series and the last time the Panthers won a postseason series came during its run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final.
Tale of the Tape
When looking at the Lightning vs Panthers series preview, Florida and Tampa Bay rank second and third in hits per 60 minutes in the playoffs among Eastern Conference teams. They were also two of the strongest teams with the puck. Among the first six teams to advance to the second round, only Colorado and St. Louis average fewer giveaways per 60 minutes than Tampa Bay and Florida. However, Tampa Bay ranked 14th among the 16 playoff teams in takeaways per 60 minutes.
Unlikely Stars Emerge
When the 2021-22 season began, not only was Nick Paul not expected to be one of the playoff saviors for the Tampa Bay Lightning, he wasn’t even a member of the Lightning.
After contributing a little bit of offense following his acquisition from Ottawa at the NHL trading deadline, Paul scored both of Tampa Bay’s goals in a 2-1 win in Game 7 to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Paul had 29 goals in 227 career games with Ottawa and hadn’t played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Paul managed just five goals in 21 games with the Lightning during the regular season. Paul led all Tampa Bay forwards in ice time in the clinching game, playing 22:03. He also led the Lightning with four shots on goal.
The minutes had to be distributed differently after the loss of center Brayden Point who was injured in the game and limited to just 5:51 of ice time.
Paul also played a key role in helping Tampa Bay kill off all three Toronto power plays in the game.
The Florida Panthers feature a nucleus of players taken by the franchise early in the first round. Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad are three major reasons why the Panthers had the best record in the NHL during the regular season.
Florida’s leading scorer in the six-game series against Washington was Carter Verhaeghe, a member of Tampa Bay’s 2019-20 team that won the Stanley Cup.
Carter Verhaeghe had trouble earning ice time during his rookie season with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
One of the few members of the Florida Panthers with a Stanley Cup title to his credit, Verhaeghe averaged less than 10 minutes per game in the 52 games he played in the regular season during the 2019-20 campaign. His playing time bumped up slightly to 10:35 per contest in the postseason.
Verhaeghe, originally drafted by Toronto, spent time in three different organizations before finding a home and a regular role with the Florida Panthers as one of the best free-agent signings in 2020. Verhaeghe scored 91 points in 121 regular-season games
It was in the series against Washington when Verhaeghe emerged as an impact player. He finished with six goals and six assists. Considered questionable for Game 6, Verhaeghe not only played but he had the winning goal in overtime as Florida avoided having to face Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in a seventh game.
Lightning vs Panthers Head-to-Head
Tampa Bay and Florida split four regular-season matchups with each team going 1-1 at home. The first two games featured a total of 10 goals, but the last two contests easily went over the total with 12 goals scored in each of them.
Victor Hedman led the Lightning with six points in the four games during the regular season. Point had four goals and Steven Stamkos scored three times.
Vasilevskiy was 2-1 with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage against the Panthers. He had a 2.64 GAA and .929 save percentage against the Panthers in last season’s playoff matchup.
Jonathan Huberdeau led Florida with five assists and seven points in the four regular-season contests against Tampa Bay. Anton Lundell, Sam Reinhart and Aleksander Barkov had five points while Anthony Duclair was the top goal-scorer with three.
Spencer Knight picked up both wins against Tampa Bay during the regular season, although it figures to be Sergei Bobrovsky in the net when the series starts. Bobrovsky had a 4.03 GAA against Tampa Bay this season and a mark of 5.33 in the 2021 playoffs.
Four straight games between the teams went under the total in the series before Florida won 9-3 on December 30 followed by Tampa Bay’s 8-4 win on April 24.
Lightning vs Panthers Betting Guide
The last series proved that it is dangerous to count out the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning won the last two games to knock out Toronto, including taking Game 7 in Toronto.
Florida led the NHL with 122 points and 34 home wins during the regular season. Florida had more goals than any other team during the season.
Keep an eye on the status of Brayden Point who scored 14 goals during the 2020 run to the Stanley Cup title and another 14 as the Lightning repeated as champions. Ekblad and fellow Florida defenseman Ben Chiarot are questionable for the start of the series.
The Panthers averaged 3.33 goals in six games and Tampa Bay 3.29 in seven games so if you are looking for an NHL betting tip, don’t be surprised to see games going under the total.
Florida is moving on despite going 0 for 18 on the power play. Tampa Bay drew the second-most opportunities on the power play and went 7 of 33 with the man advantage against Toronto. The Lightning also gave up two shorthanded goals. Among the eight teams remaining, Florida has the worst penalty-killing success rate.Follow us on Twitter