Lightning break hearts of Leaf Nation
A year ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers had the first playoff pairing between Sunshine State teams since a 1999 NFL showdown between the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Nikita Kucherov made his return to the ice a memorable one, three goals and eight assists in six games against Florida. There were cries from Panther fans as well as other opposing fan bases that the Lightning circumvented the salary-cap rules.
Andrei Vasilevskiy made sure the series would not go the distance, snaring 29 shots during a 4-0 shutout in Game 6. That was the start of the Lightning’s march to a second straight Stanley Cup title. Look for a physical meeting here as both teams averaged more than 40 hits per 60 minutes in their first-round series.
According to Las Vegas odds, Florida (+350) has the second-lost odds to win the Stanley Cup, while Tampa Bay is right behind at +600. Tampa Bay’s odds could change depending on the availability of second-line centerman Brayden Point, long a standout during the playoffs.
Check the latest NHL lines, stats, injury reports, and NHL odds for Lightning vs Panthers. There are plenty of NHL picks and predictions.
How They Got Here
The only team to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs while being outscored is the Tampa Bay Lightning, needing overtime (Brayden Point goal) in Game 6, then a one-goal win in Game 7 at Toronto to eliminate the Maple Leafs. While the NHL betting lines favored Toronto once the Maple Leafs went up three-games-to-two in the series, the playoff pedigree of the Lightning showed itself again.
Florida joined the St. Louis Blues and Cup-favored Colorado Avalanche as the only teams not requiring seven games to advance. The Panthers took out the playoff-tested Washington Capitals in six games, They lost their previous six playoff series. The last time the Panthers won a postseason series came during their run to the finals of the Cup in 1996.
Paul’s acquisition pays dividends for Lightning
Looking at the acquisitions at the NHL trade deadline, bringing Nick Paul to Tampa Bay from Ottawa flew a bit under the radar.
Paul had 29 goals in 227 career games with Ottawa, but hadn’t played in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
However, on a roster full of proven playoff performers, it was Paul who scored late in both the first and second period of the Game 7 elimination contest. Paul had just five goals in 21 games with the Lightning during the regular season. However, he led all Tampa Bay forwards in ice time in the clinching game with 22:03. Paul also led the Lightning with four shots on goal.
The minutes had to be distributed differently after the loss of center Brayden Point, his injury seeing him limited to just 5:51 of ice time.
“He was the cheerleader on the bench!”
Victor Hedman talks about Brayden Point staying on the bench after getting hurt. #GoBolts pic.twitter.com/gRJ12rmYot
— Bally Sports Sun: Lightning (@BallyLightning) May 15, 2022
Paul also played a key role in helping Tampa Bay kill all three Toronto power plays.
Paul and Brandon Hagel, also acquired (Chicago) at the trade deadline, were tied for fifth on the team with four points in the Toronto series. Nikita Kucherov led the way with team-high marks of six assists and eight points, Defenseman Victor Hedman had seven points, while Ross Colton and Ondrej Palat added five.
Vasilevskiy struggling down the stretch during the regular season, but was strong in Game 7. His overall numbers (3.04 goals-against average, .897 save percentage) are down, however.
Verhaeghe delivers for Panthers
Carter Verhaeghe had trouble earning ice time during his first season with the Florida Panthers..
One of the few members of the Florida Panthers with a Stanley Cup title (ironically, with the Lightning) to his credit, Verhaeghe averaged less than 10 minutes per game in 52 regular-season games for the Lightning in 2019-20 His playing time bumped 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 Panthers He was one of the best free-agent signings of 2020. Verhaeghe has 91 points (121 regular-season games) in two seasons with the Panthers.
It was in the series against Washington where Verhaeghe emerged into an impact player. He finished with six goals and six assists. Considered questionable for Game 6, Verhaeghe not only played but had the winning (overtime) goal in as Florida avoided having to face Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals in a seventh game.
Verhaeghe was sixth among Florida’s forwards in ice time during the series., but tied for fifth with 15 shots on goal. Verhaeghe had five goals and four assists as Florida won the final three games after Washington took a 2-1 lead in the series.
He had one multi-point game in his final 21 regular-season appearances, but finished the first-round series with three straight multi-point efforts.
Florida had to play the last two games without Mason Marchment, who had 18 goals and 29 assists during the regular season. It remains to be seen if Marchment (lower-body injury) can play in the next series.
Lightning vs Panthers Head-to-Head
Tampa Bay and Florida split four regular-season games, with each team going 1-1 at home. First two games featured a total of 10 goals, but the last two contests easily went over the total with 12 goals 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 three.
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 pairing.
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 each 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, though it figures to be Sergei Bobrovsky in net when the series starts. Bobrovsky had a 4.03 GAA against Tampa Bay this season after a 5.33 GAA in the 2021 playoffs.
Four straight games between the teams went under the total in the series before Florida won, 9-3, Dec. 30th. It was an 8-4 Tampa Bay win Apr. 24th to wrap the season series
Lightning vs Panthers Game Information
- Game: Lightning (51-23-8 in the regular season) vs Panthers (58-18-6)
- Location: FLA Live Arena
- Day/Time: Tuesday, May 17, 7:00 p.m. ET
- Lightning vs Panthers Live stream: NHL.TV
Lightning vs Panthers Betting Lines
Lightning vs Panthers Prediction
The last series proved that it’s dangerous to count out the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning won the last two games to take out Toronto, including the clincher in Toronto.
The Panthers averaged 3.33 goals in six games and Tampa Bay 3.29 in seven games. Those who bet online will keep those numbers in mind when the series gets underway. Florida was 0-for-18 on the power play. That can’t continue if Florida wants to advance.
Florida did leed the NHL with 122 points and 34 home wins during the regular season. Florida had more goals than any other team (340) 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 last season. Florida defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Ben Chiarot are both considered day-to-day, but the expectations are both will play.
Florida won’t have the added pressure of trying to win its first playoff series since ’96, as the Panthers looked like a team struggling for postseason success early in the first-round against Washington.
Pick: Florida Panthers (-160)
Pick: Tampa Bay Lightning +1½ Goals (-175)
Parlay: Florida Panthers (-160) and Tampa Bay Lightning +1½ Goals (-175) at +155