This is the matchup that the Florida Panthers have been wanting. The Battle of Florida. Florida’s road back to the Stanley Cup will go through their rival, the two-time defending champions Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning are coming off a hard-fought first-round victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs and look as deadly as ever. Last year, the Lightning ended the Panthers’ season on the way to back-to-back champions. Now, the Panthers get their chance at revenge. If anyone deserves to end Tampa’s hopes for a three-peat, it’s Florida.
Florida Panthers vs Tampa Bay Lightning Series Preview
Lightning Looking for a Three-peat
The Lightning need little introduction. Despite the loss of key depth, the Bolts have managed to maintain their dominant form. Do not be fooled by their #5 seeding. They are still the same team that has won back-to-back titles. Nikita Kucherov has led the way in these playoffs, with two goals, six assists, and eight points. Victor Hedman continues to show why he’s one of the best defensemen in the NHL.
But the Bolts will need more from captain Steven Stamkos. Stamkos had a stellar season, with 42 goals, 64 assists, and 106 points. So far, he only has four playoff points and will need to step up for Tampa Bay to advance. After a tough start to the first round, Andrei Vasilevskiy is starting to look like the Vezina calibre goalie we all know. He put on an immaculate Game 7 performance against the Leafs, with 30 saves and a .968% save percentage. But the Lightning will need a more complete series from Vasilevsky to keep pace with Florida.
Panthers Need To Tighten Up on Defence
Florida’s strength this year has been their white-hot offence. Carter Verhaeghe was the x-factor in their first-round series against Washington. He was the offensive driving force in round one for the Panthers with six goals and six assists for 12 points. Claude Giroux is proving that he was worth the price the Panthers paid for him at the deadline. With seven points of his own, Giroux is adding scoring depth to a team already rich with it. On the back end, Aaron Ekblad is pulling his weight with five points.
But the Panthers have suffered from sloppy play in these playoffs. Far too often in round one, they would give up late goals or put themselves in an early hole. Florida has a habit of conjuring up comeback wins, but they’re playing with fire. They can get away with that against the Capitals. It won’t be the same case against the Lightning. If they want to continue their journey, they will need to tighten up. Beating Tampa Bay will also require a big effort from Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. He’s been okay in these playoffs, sporting a .906% save percentage. That won’t cut it against the Lightning. This is where he needs to earn that $10M/yr contract.
Goaltending Could Be Key
Florida and Tampa Bay are pretty evenly matched from a talent perspective. Florida bolstered their depth in the offseason and at the trade deadline. The Bolts have relied on free agency and the prospects to supplement the bottom six. Tampa has the edge defensively, but Florida has enough talent to match. The x-factor for both teams will be between the pipes.
Vasilevsky and Bobrovsky are both top-tier netminders, but both have underperformed in these playoffs. Bobrovsky hasn’t been bad by any means, but the Panthers need more. Vasilevsky will need to be more consistent than he was against Toronto. These two could be what decides this series. Last year, Bobrovsky was pulled for the final two games of the series. This is his chance at redemption. For Vasilevsky, a chance to further affirm his reputation as the best goalie in the league.
Series Prediction For Florida Panthers vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Based on the play of both teams in the first round, this should be a tight series. Expect some high-scoring affairs with some overtime to add to the entertainment value. But if Florida’s sloppy play continues, Tampa could end this series sooner than expected.
Prediction: The Tampa Bay Lightning will continue their quest for history. Lightning win in seven games.
Game 1 is scheduled for 5/15 at 7:00 pm EST/4 pm PT.