Offseason Moves Paying Dividends for Panthers
There were stretches during the season when it looked like the Florida Panthers would go from having the most points in the NHL last season to missing the playoffs as they were defying the NHL predictions for all the wrong reasons.
However, Florida managed to secure the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference despite losing the final two games of the regular season. The NHL picks had six EasternConference teams ahead of the Panthers to win the Stanley Cup playoffs when the playoffs started.
Florida made plenty of NHL news when it eliminated a Boston Bruins team that set NHL records for wins and points during the regular season and then took out the talent-laden Toronto Maple Leafs to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1996.
Since playing in the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals, the Panthers lost seven of eight playoff series. It has been a different story this season.
Florida (+325) is second only to the Carolina Hurricanes in the odds to win the Stanley Cup.
According to the NHL playoff odds, Florida is priced at +110 to win the series.
Panthers Have Plenty of Bite
Florida had a run of high draft picks to build the team around. However, it is some recent acquisitions that have changed the look of the team.
No NHL trade got more attention than the one that sent Jonathan Huberdeau, the team’s leading scorer, to Calgary for Matthew Tkachuk.
Tkachuk not only led Florida with 109 points during the regular season, he brought some grit to the team. That has been especially noticeable in the postseason. The Las Vegas NHL odds are listing Tkachuk as one of the front-runners in the Conn Smythe Award race.
He has not been alone.
Sam Bennett, in his second full season with the Panthers, leads all Florida forwards with 49 hits in the playoffs followed by Tkachuk’s 42.
Sam Reinhart, who spent his first seven seasons in Buffalo before landing in Florida before the start of the 2021-22 season has 33 hits.
Nick Cousins is playing for his sixth NHL franchise. He joined the Panthers after playing for the Nashville Predators in each of the last two seasons.
Making Themselves at Home
No team in the playoffs has looked more at ease on the road than the Panthers.
After the Bruins won the series opener, Florida has won its last six road games. It is quite the turnaround considering that the Panthers were just 19-19-3 on the road with a -13 goal differential away from home during the regular season.
Three of those postseason wins have come in overtime and another one also finished as a one-goal game. Keep that in mind when looking at the NHL live betting odds.
The Panthers will begin on the road for the third series in a row.
-Entered the #StanleyCup Playoffs as the lowest-ranked team
-Overcame a 3-1 deficit against the team with the highest regular season point total ever
-Defeated a team with 50 wins in just five games
-Are now going to the Conference Finals for the first time in 27 years
— NHL (@NHL) May 13, 2023
Tkachuk leads all players in the playoffs with a +9 plus/minus rating on the road. Teammates Bennett and Carter Verhaeghe both are at +7.
Tkachuk is fourth and Verhaeghe fifth in road points in the playoffs as Tkachuk has two goals and eight assists with Verhaeghe adding four goals (three of them game-winning scores) and five assists.
What About Bob?
When the playoff began, the unheralded Alex Lyon was between the pipes for the Panthers. After allowing nine goals in the first three games against the Bruins, the Panthers turned to former Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky.
Bobrovsky had 50 saves on Friday as the Panthers eliminated Toronto in overtime.
He is 6-1 when facing at least 30 shots in the postseason. that could come into play since Carolina finished third in the NHL with an average of 34.8 shots per game during the regular season.
Bobrovsky’s playoff numbers pale in comparison to his regular-season marks. However, he has come up with clutch saves through this playoff run. Keep an eye on the sportsbook to check on Bobrovsky’s Conn Smythe odds if Florida continues its surprising surge.
Panthers Keep on Coming
Florida comes into this series tied with Edmonton for the most wins (three) when trailing entering the third period.
The Panthers have 15 goals in the third period, the most of any team in this year’s playoffs and are 4-0 in overtime so overcoming an early deficit doesn’t seem to be an issue with this group.
It is easy to forget that Florida entered the 2022 playoff as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and that talent is starting to show itself.
Figuring Out a Way
Florida’s in-your-face style is not going to change even if it means that a leaky penalty kill might get some extra work.
Among the teams left in the playoffs, only the Vegas Golden Knights have a worse mark while killing penalties than the Panthers.
Florida has given up 13 power-play goals on 38 chances. Florida has allowed nine power-play goals in the seven wins so the issues on the penalty kill have not slowed the surging Panthers.
Florida is also among the worst faceoff teams in the postseason. The Panthers have won just 42.6% of the draws. Each of the six players with at least 15 faceoffs taken, all of them have lost more draws than they have won.