Through the first four games of the first round, the Florida Panthers have owned approximately 62 percent of the five-on-five scoring chances and taken 54 percent of the shots, but the Tampa Bay Lightning have scored 53 percent of the goals in taking a 3-1 series lead.
In all situations, the Panthers have owned a whopping 65 percent share of the scoring chances and 57 percent of the shot attempts, but once again, the Lightning come out ahead where it matters, scoring 60 percent of the goals overall at a rate of 4.6-3.14.
The Panthers simply haven’t been able to solve Andrei Vasilevskiy nearly enough, and Florida coach Joel Quenneville has let results dictate whom he starts in goal. Back at home for Game 5 on Monday, the key questions for the Panthers’ survival will be Quenneville’s goalie choice and whether the Lightning will be at full strength after stars Nikita Kucherov and Mikhail Sergachev were injured late in Game 4.
Sergei Bobrovsky opened the series and allowed five goals in a loss. In Game 2, the Panthers’ coaching staff went to Chris Driedger, who should have been the clear choice to start the series, and he performed well. Driedger posted a .929 save percentage in that game. Unfortunately for Driedger, the Panthers were not able to provide him with enough offensive support and they fell behind 2-0 in the series. This seemingly led to Driedger having a short leash, and when he didn’t perform well in Game 3, he was pulled after 40 minutes. Bobrovsky entered the net and the Panthers were able to stage a miraculous comeback to win in overtime.
Nobody was surprised when Bobrovsky was announced as the starter for the pivotal fourth game, and many bettors capitalized as the Lightning opened at -140 on the moneyline but closed -160. Those bettors were rewarded. Bobrovsky was awful, allowing five goals in just under 30 minutes on only 14 shots. The Lightning won, 6-2, with Driedger playing well in relief, but now it’s anybody’s guess who will start on Monday.
My gut says Driedger will start, given how Quenneville — who was noncommittal after Sunday’s practice — has used his goaltenders, and that would give the Panthers the best chance to win. He’s been the best goaltender on the team for the better part of two seasons. With Driedger, the Panthers chances of winning Game 5 sit at around 50 percent, assuming Kucherov and/or Sergachev sit out.
With Bobrovsky in Florida’s goal, the Lightning should be considered the favorite no matter what. The defending champs haven’t been at their best defensively, but they’re as dangerous as ever on offense and even more so when they’re on the man advantage. The series has been called evenly as each team has enjoyed about 20 minutes of power-play time. However, this is not in the Panthers’ best interest as the Lightning have been generating about a goal per minute on the power play.
There could be value in betting on the home team at an underdog price, but Quenneville has to make the right goalie decision (Driedger) and the Lightning will have to be missing a star player or two. There could also be a reason to bet the Bolts to close out the series as a short road-favorite if Bobrovsky starts and they have the services of Kucherov, who has nine points in just four playoff games, and Sergachev.
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