For the first time since 1996 the Florida Panthers are advancing to the second round!
Tonight, we see a rematch of last year’s first round playoff series when the Panthers host Lightning in this second round matchup! It is time for the Bolts from the West Coast to be served a little payback from the Cats of the Best Coast.
The Panthers ended the season series going 2-1-1 against the Lightning and both teams exchanged blowout victories at one point during the regular season.
Like we say all year, playoff hockey is a completely different animal than regular season hockey and Tampa is damn good at playoff hockey.
But there is something different about this year’s team that the boys didn’t necessarily have last season, veteran leadership with playoff experience.
While Jumbo has not been in the lineup yet in the playoffs, he has a wealth of playoff experience including a Cup Finals appearance with San Jose in 2016.
Along with Jumbo, Claude Giroux had the opportunity to play in the Stanley Cup Finals with the 2010 Flyers who eventually lost to the Blackhawks.
Carter Verhaeghe was a part of the 2019-2020 Tampa squad who won their first Cup; however, he was a depth player and only made 8 playoff game appearances for the squad.
Additionally, when you have made it this deep in a season, injuries will be a huge factor? A perfect example is Matt Dumba skating through a dislocated rib, broken rib, and a punctured lung for the Wild. Anything to win the Cup, right fellas?
This being said, the Lightning will be without Brayden Point for at least Game 1 and potentially longer. While he may not be as big of a name as Kucherov or Stamkos, he provides quite an offensive punch and was in the mix for the Conn Smythe trophy during their last Cup run. He plays such an important role for the TBL that the probability of the Panthers winning the series is 64% if he plays every game in the matchup, but jumps to 71% should he miss the series due to injury.
One player being able to swing a team’s probability by 7% shows what an impact he will have in this series.
This season, the Panthers had a lethal offense and a PP% of 24.43% which was well above the league average. Then playoffs hit and the Panthers have lost their ability to score on special teams.
In the first round, the Cats went 0 for 18 on the man advantage against Washington and it is not about to get any easier.
While Tampa plays a great shutdown PK, they also have one of the world’s best manning the net in case they do have any lapses on the kill. The Cats will have to get some powerplay goals as that can be the difference in a game or series.
Another worrisome factor is the size and grit matchup between the Lightning and the Panthers. While everyone was talking about how the Cats stood up for themselves in their final home game against the Bolts, this will be different.
Did you watch the Lightning play Toronto? Maroon and Perry made their size and weight felt out there. Also, Nick Paul, who turned out to be Game 7’s MVP for the Bolts is no small boy either.
I think had Tom Wilson been able to play in the opening series, it could have drastically impacted the game. He would have terrorized the Cats or at least frustrated them into taking stupid penalties.
While Perry and Maroon may not have the offensive upside that Wilson does, they can frustrate and get under the skin of just about anybody in the league.
With Tampa’s PP unit so lethal, the Panthers will need to play smart, disciplined hockey and not take any stupid retaliatory penalties.
Vasilevskiy is still arguably the best goalie in the world, but he did look very human early in the Toronto series in particular Game 1. He turned it on as the games mattered more; however, the first few games, he did not appear to be the Russian Wall that he has made a name for the past few seasons.
One final point, if the Panthers want to win this series, they will not be able to do it the run and gun style that they played on and off this year.
Yes, high powered offenses look cool and everyone loves a lot of goals, but Tampa has proven to be able to shoot down the best goal scorer this season.
The Bolts can play a very defensive game thus the Cats have to be smart. A 2-1 win means as much as a 10-8 win. They should not let themselves fall behind by being too aggressive with the puck or trying to create an offensive play that isn’t there.
The key will be playing smart in their defensive zone, limiting mental errors, and keeping Tampa from being able to unleash offensive weapons like Kucherov.
If Kuch is not scoring, he will get frustrated and take stupid penalties. The Cats need to play smart as the time for run and gun hockey has ended. They will not win this series if they want to outscore their mental lapses. They need to think defense first.
In summary, if the Cats want to win this series and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals they will need to focus on a few areas:
- Special Teams: get the PP going
- Staying out of the box and not letting the Worm or Fat Pat terrorize them
- Playing “blue collar” hockey: throwing the puck on net, crash the net, and lot of bodies in front
- Focusing on their defensive zone and playing team defense
As always Cats fans, in Zito we trust!