The battle of Florida, Lightning vs Panthers. This could turn into a great long-winded series or a blowout. But, both the teams in this series were by some expected to be in different spots than they are now. Most expected the Lightning to win the division, not end up in third place. On the other hand, some had the Panthers missing the playoffs, not the second seed in the Central Division. Despite initial predictions, the playoffs are here and the battle for Florida is on.
Lightning vs Panthers Breakdown
Lightning vs Panthers will feature two teams who have some high-flying offensive players such as Jonathan Huberdeau, Steven Stamkos, and the returning Nikita Kucherov. And that right there is a huge point to be made. Tampa Bay"s offense was ninth in goals per game this season and they were missing their best forward in Kucherov. They were also missing Stamkos for a while and they may be getting both players back. With the Lightning getting their best forward back for the playoffs, the offense will be improved and can get it done.
The Panthers offense has also been quite good this year. In fact, there"s has been better than the Lightning. The Panthers sit fourth in goals for per game average this season, proving their offense is stellar and of high quality. Aleksander Barkov and Huberdeau both have played very well and have more points than they have games played. The new addition to the team at the trade deadline, Sam Bennett, has 15 points in ten games played for the team which is also excellent.
Defense and Goaltending:
The Lightning have the advantage if the Panthers end up putting Sergei Bobrovsky in net. Andrei Vasilevskiy is a great goaltender and Victor Hedman is an excellent defenseman. The real surprise here is that the Panthers have found a goaltender. Chris Driedger has been outstanding to this point, proving himself worthy of the starting spot.
Spencer Knight has also played well the few chances he has had to start. He won his first three starts and has four wins so far with a .919 save percentage and 2.32 goals-against average. Those are some pretty great numbers for the rookie. On a side note, keep in mind the Lightning acquired David Savard at the deadline to help out on defense.
Tampa Bay’s power-play currently sits at ninth and again this is without Kucherov. Their power-play percentage sits at 22.4%. The Panthers, however, only have an average power play, despite having a great offense. Their power play sits at 15th with a 20.5% success rate. The Lightning have a better power play and that is a pretty easy conclusion to come to.
The penalty kill also seems to be in the Lightning’s favor as the numbers show below. Overall special teams is being done well in Tampa, but is really just average with the Panthers.
All this being said, if anyone thought the Lightning mopped the floor with the Panthers this year, they would be sorely mistaken. The Panthers took five of the eight games in the season series. Don’t look at this too much though as a season series can mean nothing. And once again, it"s unknown how these games would have turned out if Kucherov was playing.
Lightning vs Panthers could end up being a great, long series but the fact remains that the Lightning are the superior team. The Panthers could pull off the upset, but the Lightning are a powerhouse when in form and they have a chance to repeat as champs. The Lightning will win in six games taking out the up-and-coming Panthers. Both the Florida teams were good this year, but ultimately, the Lightning will be the last Florida team standing.
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