The Tampa Bay Lightning have the opportunity to finish off the Florida Panthers in Game 5. Florida will look for a spark from an unlikely source in hopes of staying alive to force a short flight back to Tampa for a Game 6.
This game is lined very closely at BetUS Sportsbook with essentially -110 on both sides. It would have made sense to see the Lightning as a clear favorite given how the series has gone to this point, but the Panthers are still being given some respect from the oddsmakers. The total sits at 6.
Let’s see if Lightning strikes and the season ends for Florida.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Taking one of the best teams in the NHL and adding the 2018-19 MVP to the lineup is unfair. When you also get to add a player like Steven Stamkos, it seems downright illegal. The former MVP in question is Nikita Kucherov, who has made his presence felt with three goals and six assists to lead all players in points with nine. Stamkos has two goals and four assists himself.
The Lightning have actually not been as good by the advanced metrics as you would expect. At 5-v-5, Florida has an xGF of 8.02 compared to 5.73 for Tampa Bay. Florida has 108 scoring chances to 65 for Tampa Bay. The Panthers even have 37 high-danger chances to just 23 for the Lightning.
Goaltending has been the difference. Tampa Bay has a 93.52% SV% on scoring chances at 5-v-5 and Florida has an 87.69% SV% on those. Florida has 14 more high-danger chances at full strength, but the Lightning have eight high-danger goals to just three for Florida. In other words, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been a big difference maker in the series.
The other difference maker has been the Tampa Bay power play. The Lightning are 7-of-15 with the man advantage. Florida is 5-of-15. Those two extra power play goals have come in handy, especially with the differences between the two netminders.
Vasilevskiy actually has a very high GAA at 3.18, as this has been a very wide-open series, but he has a .919 SV% and that’s the number that matters. He’s faced 160 shots over five games. The Panthers have gotten horrific goaltending play through four games in this series, so while Vasi’s GAA is high, his ability to make saves and make tough saves has given the Lightning a big spark.
Speaking of sparks, let’s see if Florida gets one with a third different goaltender in this series. After poor efforts from Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger, rookie Spencer Knight will get his chance to shine. Bobrovsky has allowed 10 goals on 63 shots and Driedger allowed eight goals on 62 shots.
The thought process from Joel Quenneville here is that it can’t really get any worse, right? So, Spencer Knight gets the call. Knight only played four games during the regular season, but stopped 91 of 99 shots. This is an enormous opportunity for the 20-year-old Knight. He hasn’t played game action in 21 days, but after practicing in the starter’s net on Sunday, it looks as though he’ll get the chance here.
Florida shouldn’t need any extra inspiration or motivation here. If the Panthers lose, the season is over. Knight’s presence will make things very interesting. Florida isn’t a great defensive team to begin with, though the poor goaltending numbers are a big reason why their metrics in that department grade pretty low. Florida can outscore Tampa Bay. They’ve been the better team at 5-v-5. It’s just a matter of whether or not Knight can make the saves that the others could not.
Florida’s best players need to be at their best here. Jonathan Huberdeau and Carter Verhaeghe are the only Panthers with more than one goal in this series. A balanced scoring approach is fine, but Florida needs the stars to shine, otherwise this series will be over.
Lightning vs. Panthers Free Pick
This game will prove to be a valuable experience for Spencer Knight, win or lose. Tampa Bay has not been that great 5-v-5 in this series, but Andrei Vasilevskiy has been big in net. The Lightning have really used the power play to their advantage and have gotten some big plays from some big players. Florida has had a decent power play, but the Panthers’ stars haven’t done what has been required.
It’s a big ask for Knight to hold Tampa Bay at bay, but the Panthers have been the better team in xGF through the first four games at 5-v-5. Everybody will be on Tampa Bay here with Knight between the pipes. Let’s go against the grain and give Florida the chance to extend the series.
Pick: Florida Panthers