While no one can argue that Andrei Vasilevskiy is an elite goaltender in the NHL, I would like to pose the question of whether or not Florida has figured something out that has puzzled the rest of the league.
This season Vasi has posted 32 wins in 42 games yet he is 2-4 against the Panthers. Looking a little deeper in to his stats, he has posted a 2.21 GAA and a .925 save percentage, but those numbers make a significant drop to 3.36 GAA and .898 SV% when playing against Florida.
These are his worst numbers against any other opponent in the Central Division, thus begging the question “have the Panthers figured out something no other team in the Central has”?
While most of the NHL has moved towards a 1A/1B goalie tandem, the Lightning have invested heavily in Vasilevskiy and do not have the cap space for a 1B role. With a condensed schedule and the Lightning fighting for seating in the playoffs, Vasi has played 42 of the 56 games for the Bolts. In comparison, Bobrovsky has only played in 31 of the 56 games for the Panthers while sharing time with Dreidger and Knight.
Looking at his last 3 games, 2 versus Florida and 1 against the Stars, he has given up 11 goals on 87 shots for a cumulative 3.67 GAA and .874 Save Percentage. This simply will not get it done against a team that is getting scoring from their depth lines including players like Wennberg and Bennett.
Is Vasi exhausted? Will he have enough of a break prior to puck drop on Sunday? This is another hot topic in the NHL now, how important is resting your tendy going in to playoffs?- Although I will save that debate for another time.
Looking beyond the crease, the Lightning are favored and should be getting Kucherov, Stamkos, and Hedman back in time for the opening game of the series. This being said, will they be healthy enough to make a difference? Does missing the entire regular season leave rust that Kucherov will need to shake off?
Here’s something you might not have known: The Panthers have been one of the hottest teams leading in to playoffs having won their last 6 games and going 11-2-1 since April 13th. Will Bobrovsky return to his 2019 form and turn the Lightning in to nothing more than a flash in the pan? The leash might be short, considering Coach Q seems to be ready hand the reigns over to rising star Chris Dreidger.
Can the Panthers keep up their Central Division leading 3.36 goals per game and 34.9 shots on goal per game? If so, we might just see the Panthers pull off their first playoff series win since the infamous Stanley Cup run in 1996.
My prediction for this series is the Panthers in 6. I think it will be high scoring games, so I know I will be hammering the over! Life is too short to bet the under. Game 1 will be a 5-3 Panthers win and the Lightning will be heading to Tampa down 0-2. Will I be right? Tune in on Sunday for the answers!