A huge NHL card awaits on Saturday May 8 as the majority of the league’s teams will be in action. That means that we have a lot of games to pick from, but there are also a lot of games that have big favorite roles.
One that does not is the spotlight game for us in this preview, as the Tampa Bay Lightning go on the road to take on the Florida Panthers. The Sunshine State Rivalry has been split down the middle with each team winning three games. Florida has more points by virtue of an overtime loss on April 15.
With two games left on Saturday and Monday, these playoff tune-ups should be good for both teams. Tampa Bay is the short -115 road favorite after playing on Friday night, with the Panthers getting just over plus money at home per the odds at Bookmaker Sportsbook. The total is 5.5 juiced over.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Not surprisingly, the Lightning threw Curtis McElhinney out on Friday night against Dallas. That means a rested Andrei Vasilevskiy for Saturday’s game against the Panthers. Vasilevskiy has a terrific 31-8-1 record with a 2.10 GAA and a .928 SV%. He has a great chance at winning the Vezina Trophy for the league’s best goaltender. He’s 2-2 with 11 goals allowed on 131 shots against the Panthers this season.
Vasilevskiy has only played once in the team’s last four games, as the Lightning are trying to give him some days off in advance of the playoffs. These games mean a little bit more, though. Tampa Bay and Florida are going to face off in the first round of the NHL Playoffs, but the team that finishes higher during the regular season will have home ice advantage.
The Bolts are 15-8-3 on the road this season and the Panthers are 18-5-3 at home. Tampa Bay’s 21 home wins entering Friday’s game against Dallas were tied for the most in the league. Tampa Bay lost against Dallas on Friday, a Stars team that had dropped five straight coming into that one while playing for the last playoff spot in the division.
These have been high-scoring games between the two teams. Five of the six games have featured at least seven goals. The other was the aforementioned 3-2 overtime win for the Bolts. We’ll see if the teams tighten up a little bit here.
The Panthers are extremely well-rested for this game. Because of how the schedule worked out, Florida has not played since Monday. That was a 5-4 win in overtime over Dallas. Spencer Knight got the nod in that one and it is fair to wonder if Knight has actually usurped the role previously held by Sergei Bobrovsky. It could also be that the Panthers are just resting “Bob” for the postseason push.
Bobrovsky is 18-8-2 with a 2.97 GAA and a .904 SV%. Those aren’t exactly the kind of numbers you’d be looking for from a playoff starter. Backup netminder Chris Driedger has been a lot better with a 13-6-3 record, a 2.17 GAA, and a .923 SV%. Knight is a perfect 4-0 with eight goals allowed on 99 shots in his first four NHL games. We have something of a goaltender controversy here to a degree.
Stopping pucks is an essential part of the job. Also, the Panthers have allowed 152 goals in 54 games this season, which is quite a few by the standards of the rest of the playoff teams. Only Pittsburgh, Washington, Montreal, and St. Louis have allowed more. The Canadiens and Blues have yet to clinch their spots.
The Panthers are +18 in goal differential at 5-v-5, but have a terrible penalty kill. The 38 power play goals that they’ve allowed were tied for the fifth-most in the league entering play on Friday. On the other hand, Florida has scored 38 power play goals by virtue of the second-most PP attempts. Only Colorado has had more.
Lightning vs. Panthers Free Pick
It is pretty interesting the way that the Panthers have gotten Tampa Bay to play so many wide-open games. Most of Tampa’s games are very controlled and usually by them. Florida brings out the worst in the Lightning’s defensive play. With two crucial points on the line here, I think we get a more controlled game, not to mention Florida seems to have upgraded in net with Knight and Driedger over Bobrovsky. We know Vasilevskiy is solid.