Free Picks: Panthers vs. Lightning, 2021 Stanley Cup Round 1

Patrick Trudeau
Patrick Trudeau
NHL Free Picks – Best Bets of the Week
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Florida Panthers NHL Stanley Cup 2021 Round 1
Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, Round 1, Lightning wins series, 4-2

Every team was gunning for the Lightning as defending Stanley Cup champions. Florida was given the first opportunity but were dropped in-front of the Lightning faithful

Series Results: Lightning wins series, 4-2

It took 6 games, but the Lightning took down the Florida Panthers. The battle of Florida did not disappoint for hockey fans.

Tampa Bay flashed their brilliance and proved that the deeper team won. Without Aaron Ekblad, the Panthers were hurting on defense and the Lightning took advantage of that.

As the reigning Stanley Cup champions, Tampa Bay welcomed back Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos to their lineup, something the Panthers couldn’t combat for the majority of this series.

Now, the Lightning prepare for the second round and the winner between Nashville and Carolina.

Game 1

May 16, 7:30 p.m., BB&T Center

Can the Panthers handle the Lightning?

All season long, we heard about how much stronger the Tampa Bay Lightning would be if they were at full force. Injuries to Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos (in April) hindered the Lightning this season and definitely impacted their success in the regular season.

But playoff time is another story. Kucherov and Stamkos were both seen skating and practicing and are set to return to action for Game 1 of this series. Florida is without Aaron Ekblad, which has been a big blow for the Panthers.

I think for this NHL prediction, I have to stick with the defending Stanley Cup champions. The boost from Stamkos and Kucherov returning to the lineup will fire up the boys in the TBL locker room. Even though the Panthers are on home ice, they are facing the juggernauts of last season – at full health.

With the return of Stamkos and Kucherov, I think Tampa Bay’s top line trumps Florida’s. Barkov is good, but the Lightning have gotten much deeper with those two returning.

As a group, Florida’s offense is rather impressive. Barkov and Huberdeau have been amazing as usual and the addition of Sam Bennett has been a nice touch to the Panthers’ lineup.

One stat that could dramatically impact NHL Stanley Cup odds is penalty kill percentage. Entering this game, the Lightning are better at killing penalties. Tampa Bay’s percentage is 84.2%, while the Panthers’ is 79.8%. That could be the difference-maker in this series if one team gets a power play late in the game.

Florida took the regular-season series, but I think the return of Stamkos and Kucherov cannot be ignored. This series screams game 7, but I think on opening night we see Tampa Bay take a 1-0 series lead.

For game 1, I think taking Tampa Bay on the Moneyline -125 (888Sport) will be your best NHL bet for this game.

I will re-evaluate for Game 2, but I think the Lightning start this round with a victory.



Game 2 (Lightning leads 1-0)

May 18, 10:00 p.m., BB&T Center

Florida needs to maintain their energy

Despite losing game 1, the Florida Panthers brought the HEAT to the Tampa Bay Lightning. There are some huge takeaways from game number 1 that I think will greatly impact who wins the second game.

Special teams were one of the biggest factors to open the series. Tampa Bay scored two of their five goals on the man advantage, while the Panthers were able to pot one geno on the Power Play. Social media was very vocal about the officiating in game 1, so it will be interesting to see how the second game plays out. Either way, penalties will need to be limited for both sides in Game 2.

I think Florida’s best chance at winning game 2 will be playing even-strength hockey. The Panthers looked solid during 5-on-5 play. At 5-on-5 with Barkov on the ice, Florida handled 93% of the expected scoring chances and goals. When Barkov was not on the ice, Tampa Bay dominated at 73%.

Sam Bennett will also miss game 2 due to suspension. Acquired in a trade to help boost the Panthers, Bennett boarded Blake Coleman and will be sidelined for this upcoming contest.

For this Stanley Cup playoffs prediction, I think taking the Panthers ML will be your best NHL pick for this game.. They were buzzing in game 1 and I believe this series will be a grueling battle that goes the distance.

Officiating didn’t necessarily impact this game, but every penalty called could have been a swing in momentum for either team. If the Panthers can stay out of the box, I think they exit this game with the series tied.

I don’t like Bennett having to watch from the press box, but if Barkov and company can roll at even strength, I like the Predators +105 (10Bet) to win straight up.


Game 3 (Lightning leads 2-0)

May 20, 06:30 p.m., Amalie Arena

Down but not out, the Panthers attempt to climb back into this series.

Tampa Bay enters the confines of their own home up 2-0 over their rivals. It hasn’t been an easy stretch of games for the Lightning, but they still have managed to take a commanding lead in this series.

For Florida, they have been close to defeating the Lightning, but close can only take you so far. The Panthers’ season is coming to an end with every L they take. One more would put them on the brink of elimination away from BB&T Center.

I don’t think the Panthers will get swept, but it’s hard to not look at Tampa Bay and see they are the better team right now. Entering game 3, I think taking the over in total goals 4.5 –250 (888Sport) will be your best NHL bet. Both teams are firing on all cylinders, it’s just that Tampa Bay has been able to score timely goals compared to the Panthers.

Game 1 proved that Florida could skate with the big dogs, but now it’s gut-check time. The Panthers are one loss away from finding themselves in a huge rut. The good news is that Florida is peppering the goal with shots. As a team, they tallied 33 shots in their Game 2 loss, with Aleksander Barkov leading the charge with 5 shots.

Speaking of Barkov – he is due. He has been buzzing around the Tampa goal and is bound to score eventually. Barkov is a top player in the league and creates chances. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him net a goal Thursday night.

I like the Panthers, but it’s clear why the Lightning were considered favorites for Stanley Cup odds. Tampa Bay is stacked and it will take a monumental effort to take them down.

Right now, I need to roll with Tampa Bay to win game 3. Florida was good in game 1 and alright in game 2. Meanwhile, the Lightning have been dominant and have shown no signs of slowing down.


Game 5 (Lightning leads 3-1)

May 24, 08:00 p.m., BB&T Center

Can Florida stay alive against the juggernauts of the NHL?

The Tampa Bay Lightning are the crown jewel of professional hockey. As defending Stanley Cup champion, every team is gunning to take down the Lightning.

State rival Florida are the first team to take a stab at dethroning the kings of the NHL and find themselves one game away from elimination. Monday night, the Panthers attempt to save their season at home.

Although it hasn’t been true in the playoffs, Florida dominated at home during the regular season. BB&T Center was very friendly as the Panthers were 20-5-3 at home this season and they desperately need to replicate that success Monday night.

Honestly, I think it could happen. The Panthers have played well this series, but have been edged out, unfortunately. Game 1 could have gone either way and that is the difference-maker in this series.

For this Stanley Cup prediction, I want to take the Panthers straight up. They are at home and are itching for a victory. The Panthers average over 30 shots per game and are pressuring Tampa Bay in their own end. With their backs against the wall, I think the Panthers can keep their season alive.

Florida is listed at -105 (Betway) on the Moneyline ahead of game 5.

As for an alternate bet, I would potentially look at the over in goals (5.5, –135). This series has been high-scoring and with the number of shots both Florida and Tampa Bay are averaging per game, they are getting numerous chances to bury the biscuit.

It might be time for the Panthers to say goodbye to the NHL playoffs, but this expert pick has them staying alive for one more game.


Game 4 (Lightning leads 2-1)

May 22, 4:30 p.m., Amalie Arena

After losing two straight games at home, the Florida Panthers returned the favor to Tampa Bay. The Panthers rolled into Amalie Arena and took a 6-5 OT win over the defending Stanley Cup champions, but still trail 2-1 in the best-of-7 series.

Florida vs. Tampa Bay has delivered so far. The exciting battle has been one of hockey’s best first-round matchups, which has fans excited for the 4th installment.

Watching the Panthers go head-to-head with the Lightning, it’s noticeable that both teams shoot a lot. For this BetPicks Prediction, I think taking the over in total goals 4.5 -275 (888Sport) will be the play. Tampa Bay and Florida are scoring at an unreal pace and I expect that to continue on Saturday. We’ve seen high shot tallies through the first three games and I see no reason why the same won’t happen in game 4.

The winner of game 4 will be whichever team has the better goaltending.  That could be said about any playoff game, but this series has been high-scoring. I think it’s safe to say that neither Bobrovsky nor Driedger have been lights out, and the same could be said about Vasilevskiy.

As for the winner straight up, it’s hard to not think about Tampa Bay. The Lightning are still at home and have home-ice advantage. The Lightning are the favorites (-145, 888Sport) and I think that makes the most sense for this game. Florida has impressed, but the Lightning are deadly at home. Florida is still shorthanded without Aaron Ekblad and with the Lightning firing on all cylinders; it will take a valiant effort to bring them down.

Tampa Bay are the defending Stanley Cup champions for a reason and owned some of the best Stanley Cup odds of any NHL team. If the Panthers come back home with the series tied, I may be singing a different tune about who will win this series. For now, I am all in on Tampa Bay.


Game 6 (Lightning leads series 3-2)

May 26, 08:00 p.m., Amalie Arena

Florida lives to see another day.

The Lightning vs. Panthers series is one of the best playoff match ups we have seen this season. Back and forth action has been pleasantly viewed by hockey fans as we approach a 6th and potentially decisive game.

The Panthers already escaped one elimination game, but can they do it again in Tampa Bay?

If you’re a Panthers fan, I would be worried about Tampa Bay’s ability to bounce back after a loss. During the regular season, the Lightning lost consecutive games only 4 times. Tampa Bay takes Ls, but they are usually quick to get back into the win column.

For today’s NHL bets, I think taking the Lightning at home will be the play. Spencer Knight stole game 5, but can the kid do it again if the Panthers turn to him?

Tampa Bay is also back at home, so Knight won’t be in the confines of BB&T Center. What will a raucous crowd do to the young goaltender? Knight had one spectacular performance, which could be the start of a potential Cinderella run. But for this BetPicks Prediction, I don’t know if I can trust the kid in goal. The Lightning are favorites at -154 (888Sport) and I think taking them straight up will be your best NHL bet for this game.

I have been a Florida Panthers supporter all season, but I think the Lightning close out the series on Wednesday. Tampa Bay has several players in the leaderboards for points and Tampa Bay has the second-best Power Play percentage in the NHL playoffs. If Florida gives Tampa Bay any chance on the man-advantage, you can expect the Lightning to cash in.

Florida has stolen my heart, but I have to play it safe. A young goaltender might steal the spotlight on one occasion, but I can’t trust him to do it again.


have always wanted to be a writer and sports are my favorite thing in the world, so I combined the two to make a career. I have been a long-time gambler and sports betting writer that isn't afraid to look at the underdog or specials. I am covering the NHL, MLB and NCAA Football for and am a huge fan of both sports - as well as many others. Follow me on Twitter (@Patrick_Trudeau) so we can talk betting, sports, or why ketchup DOES belong on Poutine.