The battle for Florida shifts venues with Game 3 of the opening round Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning moving to the Bay. The defending champs opened defense of their title by winning the first two games of the series on the road and can take a commanding lead in the series. The Lightning have never lost a seven-game series when winning the first two contests. Tampa’s offense was bolstered by the return of Nikita Kucherov, who tallied four points in the first two games after missing the entire regular season.
This NHL Stanley Cup Playoff games takes place on Thursday, May 20, 2021 and will air live on USA Network with puck drop at 6:30 p.m. ET from Amalie Arena.
Florida Panthers vs Tampa Bay Lightning Odds
Money Line: Florida Panthers +125 | Tampa Bay Lightning -145
Puck Line: Florida Panthers +1.5 -200 | Tampa Bay Lightning -1.5 +170
Season to Date
There are no secrets at this point. With the regular season limited to games against teams within the division the Panthers and Lightning will be meeting for the 11th time and this is the fifth consecutive game between the clubs in the past two weeks. They closed the regular campaign with a pair of matchups in Sunrise, Fla. with the Panthers winning both while holding Tampa to just one goal in those games.
Florida won the last three regular season games and triumphed in five of the eight meetings with the OVER going 5-2-1 in those games. That’s not a complete surprise since the teams were among the best at putting the puck in the net. The Panthers scored the fourth-most goals in the NHL during the regular season with 188 while the Lightning tied for seventh with 180.
Tampa is built for the postseason and they showed us that much in the first two games of this series. The Lightning overcame two one-goal deficits scoring twice in the final seven minutes of Game 1 to snatch a 5-4 victory. They got outstanding goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy in Game 2 to emerge with a 3-1 win. Tampa finished the regular season with fewer wins and points than the Panthers but they were pegged as series favorites before the playoffs started and they showed they aren’t going to give up Lord Stanley’s Cup without a fight.
It’s do-or-die time for the Panthers. While this contest isn’t a must-win since there will be a Game 4, for all intents and purposes it is because rallying from a 3-0 deficit is nearly impossible. It has happened on a few occasions but going down 0-3 is a death sentence. It’s already bad enough since Tampa has yet to lose a series when taking a 2-0 lead. One area that needs improvement if the Panthers are to get back in the series is their play on special teams. They were average during the season on the power-play and penalty kill and those areas have been a problem.
Florida is 1 of 6 with the man-advantage in the series and they surrendered three power play goals and a shorthanded tally in the series opener. And the club is facing a dilemma in net. Sergei Bobrovsky was benched after giving up five goals in the opener and his backup Chris Driedger played well in Game 2 allowing just a pair of goals. “He kept us in the game. He gave us a chance,” Joel Quenneville said of his netminder.
Tampa Bay Lightning
A favorite to repeat as Stanley Cup champions before the season started, the Lightning are in a better place now. Kucherov, who tallied 85 points last regular season and tallied a league-high 34 points during the team’s playoff run, returned to the lineup for Game 1 and looked like the sniper he’s been his entire career. So much for a taking a few games to get his legs under him. Kucherov netted two goals and an assist in the opener. The team also welcomed back Steven Stamkos after the captain missed the last month of the regular season recovering from injury. Tampa was lethal enough on offense and now they are even better.
The deciding factor in this series will be goaltending. Tampa has one of the NHL’s best while we don’t know who’s going to start for Florida on Thursday. Vasilevskiy stopped 32 shots in the Game 2 win and should be the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy after going 31-10-1 with a .925 save percentage during the season.
Panthers vs Lightning Prediction
Our picks: Tampa Bay Lightning -145 and the OVER 5.5
I like the Panthers but I think they’re overmatched now that Tampa has two big guns back in the lineup. Add Kucherov and Stamkos to a roster that had a points percentage of 67, which was higher than last year’s Cup winning team by the way, and the Lightning are tough to beat. Florida needs a complete overhaul in Game 3 with special teams and goaltending having to step up. That’s a lot to ask so I’m backing the home team.
Check out the latest NHL odds.