Diehard hockey fans have been waiting a long time for this, and their wish has finally come true: an all-Florida playoff matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers.
OK, so maybe this isn't as important as some other playoff matchup that hasn't occurred since 1979, but this is arguably the most intriguing NHL playoff betting matchup, pitting two of the league's best teams in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Lightning begin their quest for back-to-back Stanley Cups: can they start off with a road victory against the Panthers? See our thoughts in our free NHL playoff picks and predictions for Lightning vs. Panthers on Sunday, May 16, with puck drop set for 7:30 p.m. ET.
Lightning vs Panthers game info
• Location: BB&T Center, Sunrise, FL
• Date: Sunday, May 16, 2021
• Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
• TV: NBCSN, TVAS
Lightning vs Panthers series odds
Lightning vs Panthers odds
Odds via the Covers Line, an average comprised of odds from multiple sportsbooks.
Compare NHL odds before betting to ensure you get the best number.
NHL Sharp Money and Line Movement ReportBy Patrick Everson
Tampa Bay hit PointsBet USA's odds board at -120 Friday afternoon and is up to -130 at 4:30 p.m. ET, three hours before puck drop, on very balanced action. "Fifty-one percent of bets on the Lightning, 51 percent of cash on the Panthers. Essentially dead even," PointsBet's Wyatt Yearout said. The total opened at 5.5 flat (-110) and saw a price adjustment to Over -125, then to Over -120, with ticket count 2/1 and money 3/1 on the Over.Check out the full line movement for this game
Lightning at Panthers betting preview
Lightning: Victor Hedman D (Questionable), Ryan McDonagh D (Questionable), Ondrej Palat F (Questionable), Barclay Goodrow F (Questionable).
Panthers: Sam Bennett F (Questionable), Aaron Ekblad D (Out).
Find our latest NHL injury reports.
Betting trend to know
The home team is 20-8 in the last 28 head-to-head meetings. Find more NHL betting trends for Lightning vs. Panthers.
The Panthers finished the regular season fourth in the NHL in points, good for second in the Central Division, and went 5-2-1 against their in-state rivals this season — including two wins to end the regular season by a combined 9-1 margin.
So why are the Panthers underdogs, not only in the series but in this Game 1 matchup? Because when healthy, the Lightning are arguably the most formidable team in the league.
That's the key modifier, however, which we're going to look at today: "when healthy." Tampa Bay was without superstar Nikita Kucherov this entire season following hip surgery, while captain Steven Stamkos missed the final few weeks due to a lower-body injury. Both are going to be in tonight's lineup but how much can we expect from Tampa's two best forwards, who will almost certainly need to shake off some rust.
The Lightning also have some question marks on the blueline, as Norris Trophy candidate Victor Hedman and veteran Ryan McDonagh are expected to play tonight but have also been dinged up with injuries.
That's going to put a lot of pressure on Lightning star goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was spectacular this year with a 2.21 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage but struggled against the Panthers, posting a 3.36 GAA and .898 SV% in six matchups.
Florida is one of the most dominant possession and shot-generating teams in hockey and it turned things up a notch since April 1, ranking third in the NHL in Corsi For percentage, fifth in expected goals and third in goal percentage.
Considering the Panthers dominated the season series, have had success against Tampa's star goalie and have been elite at controlling play, while Tampa may need a game or two for its stars to find their footing, getting the home team at plus money is too good of a value to pass up.
PREDICTION: Panthers (+105)
The Panthers finished fourth in the NHL with 3.39 goals per game, but cranked that up to 3.88 gpg against the Lightning. Florida also allowed three goals per game against the Bolts, with has led to the Over cashing in five of the eight regular-season matchups.
While things do traditionally tighten up in the playoffs, we're a little weary of Florida's goaltending in this game.
High-priced veteran Sergei Bobrovksy is expected to start, but he has struggled for most of the season and has been outplayed by both backup Chris Driedger and top prospect Spencer Knight.
Bobo did, however, just give up one goal on 29 shots against Tampa Bay on May 8, but that snapped a four-game streak of posting sub-.900 save percentages and it was the first time in 10 games he surrendered fewer than two goals.
Florida has scored 4+ goals in four of the eight matchups this year, so we're confident it's going to pot a few today. Add in the likelihood that Bobrovsky will allow a few to beat him as well and we're leaning towards the Over in the opening salvo of the Sunshine Showdown.
PREDICTION: Over 5.5 (-115)
Lightning vs Panthers betting card
- Panthers (+105)
- Over 5.5 (-115)
Picks made on 5/16/2021 at 12:52 p.m. ET
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