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Florida Panthers vs Tampa Bay Lightning First Round Series Preview

panthers vs lightning

The 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs have finally arrived after a hard-fought 82-game regular season. The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs offer some of the most entertaining games of all sports. Furthermore, the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in sports. Today, we will analyze a first-round matchup of the Florida Panthers vs the Tampa Bay Lightning. What can we expect out of the Battle of Florida? Let’s dive into some odds and storylines surrounding this series.

Panthers vs Lightning Odds and Promos

Heading into the series, the Panthers are the favourites. The sportsbooks anticipate this series to go to six or seven games. Plus, the over-under is at 5.5 for game one on Sunday afternoon. Expect a series with some high-quality offence and a dual to the end.

Panthers vs Lightning 2023-24 History

Panthers Dominant Two-Way System

While Panthers Head Coach Paul Maurice received backlash for his job with the Winnipeg Jets, the experienced bench boss completely turned a stunned Florida roster around following an embarrassing 2022 second-round exit. Maurice created an environment for players to thrive in South Florida, where his defencemen play aggressively. This strategy works well for the Panthers because their elite defensive centremen like Aleksander Barkov and Anton Lundell stay back to cover for the defenders.

After an underwhelming 2022-23 regular season, the Panthers reached the Stanley Cup Final as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Expectations were high heading into this season, and the Panthers did not disappoint. Florida clinched first in the Atlantic Division while posting dominant analytics and on-ice results on offence and defence. Furthermore, they built a new star in Sam Reinhart, who notched 57 goals and 94 points on the season.

Lightning Sneaky Resurgence

The 2023-24 campaign was a rollercoaster of emotions for the Lightning and their fanbase. The Bolts started the season without their starting goaltender and remained outside the playoff bubble in the Fall. However, once the new year rolled around, Tampa Bay found their game and climbed to a comfortable position as the first Wild Card in the Eastern Conference.

The Lightning don’t match up well against the Panthers at 5v5, but their special teams can steal them a series. The Lightning have the best power play and the fifth-best penalty kill in the NHL. Nikita Kucherov won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer this season with 144 points. Kucherov became the first winger in NHL history to notch 100 assists in one season. Tampa Bay will rely on their high-powered offence to upset Florida.

Keys to the Victory

What the Panthers need to do to win

To find success against the Lightning, the Panthers must rely on their quality defensive structure to shut down the high-flying Lightning top-six. Florida will trust on top shutdown defender Gustav Forsling to neutralize star talents like Kucherov and Brayden Point. Their 5v5 defensive play must carry over to the penalty kill on special teams. The more discipline Florida has, the less ice time for Kucherov and the league’s top power-play unit.

What the Lightning need to do to win

While the Lightning may have the disadvantage on paper, their experience in the playoffs is undeniable. After all, the Bolts did sweep the Presidents Trophy-winning Panthers in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Andrei Vasilevskiy is vital to this series for the Lightning. The Panthers will produce high-quality offensive chances against a thin Lightning blue line, and Vasilevskiy must be ready to shut the door and play on his head. Moreover, Tampa Bay must capitalize on their special teams opportunities against a solid even strength hockey club in South Florida.

Prediction and Best Bets

The hockey world is blessed with the Battle of Florida once again, and we anticipate a close series between these two teams. Despite being considered the “underdog,” the Lightning will fight to the death. Meanwhile, the Panthers will look to finally claw out a series win against their state rivalsThis series has the potential to have a boatload of goal-scoring but also may be tight due to elite goaltending on both sides. The Lightning special teams and top-six will be difficult to stop, but the Panthers are built for the task. Plus, Florida is deep on offence to outmatch an inconsistent bottom-six Lightning group.

One player prop worth placing this series is on the Tampa Bay goaltender Vasilevskiy. The Panthers generate significantly more shots than their opponents, so we recommend taking the over on a Vasilevskiy save-count prop. In addition, the Panthers have one of the most clutch players in the National Hockey League. Don’t hesitate to place the any-time goal scorer prop on Matthew Tkachuk after he notched 11 goals in 20 games during the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.

Prediction: Panthers win in 6 games

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Main Photo Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports


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