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Panthers at Lightning Betting Preview

Two of the best teams in the league battle it out Thursday night in the Sunshine State as the Florida Panthers visit the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Panthers (27-12-4) had a recent three-game losing streak that was snapped in an overtime win on Tuesday, while the Lightning (28-12-2) have dropped three of their last five and six of their last 10.

Here is a more in-depth look at each team, ranging from key stats to players to watch. Tampa Bay is still heavily favored at home at -164, while Florida is a +138 underdog.

By the Numbers

On the offensive side, the Bolts hold a slight edge. Tampa Bay is fourth in goals per game with 3.38, ninth with 30.4 shots per game, and fifth with a 25.2 power play percentage. Meanwhile, Florida averages the second-most shots per game with 33.9 but also ranks 11th with 3.14 goals per game and 12th with a 22.1 power play percentage.

Defensively, the Lightning also own the advantages in the key stats. Tampa is sixth in the NHL with 2.55 goals allowed and 28.4 shots allowed per game, while Florida is 11th with 2.67 and 16th with 30.4, respectively. The defending champions also boast a top-10 penalty kill at 82.7 percent, while the visitors are 15th at just above 80 percent.

Players to Watch

Starting with Florida, the Panthers’ captain and leading scorer has also been their best player of late. Center Aleksander Barkov has upped his goal total to a team-high 18 after netting five goals over his last six games. He now owns a one-point lead over left-wing Jonathan Huberdeau, who finally broke his five-game point drought with an assist on Tuesday to give him 29 helpers on the year and 43 points overall.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, the team’s third-leading scorer Carter Verhaeghe will miss Thursday’s contest with an upper-body injury. That will put more on the shoulders of wingers Frank Vatrano and Patric Hornqvist. Hornqvist has two points in five games since coming off of IR, giving him 28 on the season, while Vatrano scored his 14th goal of the season in Tuesday’s overtime victory.

Although he is just Tampa Bay’s fifth-leading scorer, center Yanni Gourde has been on a tear. Gourde has goals in back-to-back games and five assists in the last week, headlined by a four-assist performance last Thursday against Nashville. In addition, unheralded rookie Ross Colton has benefited from skating with Gourde, netting a goal in three straight games before being shut out on Tuesday.

The Bolts still have big names to depend on to lead the team. Tampa Bay’s leading scorer is defenseman Victor Hedman, who, with five points in his last 10 games, is now up to a team-leading 31 assists and 38 points. Center Brayden Point and left-wing Ondrej Palat aren’t too far behind, as each has had recent point streaks. However, one question mark is center Steven Stamkos, who is tied with Point for the team-lead with 17 goals but has missed the past two games.


The Panthers have created a true timeshare in net, alternating game-by-game between Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger. With Driedger starting Tuesday, expect Bobrovsky to man the crease on Thursday. The high-priced vet is 15-7-2 with a 2.85 GAA and .907 save percentage.

As for the Lightning, their decision on who to start is an easier one. Andrei Vasilevskiy, a former Vezina Trophy winner, should once again have a home in Tampa’s net on Thursday. Vasilevskiy is 25-6-1, has a 2.00 GAA and .932 save percentage, as well as four shutouts.

Betting Pick

These teams have split the four head-to-head games they have played so far, and both are tied at 58 points heading into this game. So if you’re looking for a close, evenly-matched game, you’ve come to the right place. But looking at how these teams will line up, I’ll give the Bolts the upper hand.

Florida’s injuries to Verhaeghe and key defenseman Aaron Ekblad are devastating. The team could go through some chemistry issues as new faces like d-man Brandon Montour enter the lineup.

Even if Stamkos sits, the Lightning’s cohesiveness can’t be beaten, not to mention their impressive 15-4-0 record on home ice. Take Tampa Bay to get the “W” in this heavyweight fight.

Betting Pick: Tampa Bay Lightning -164.

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