With April rapidly approaching, teams all across the National Hockey League (NHL) should have clinched playoff spots and have an idea of potential first round opponents. This year, that’s not the case, as the world grapples with a devastating and potentially life-altering pandemic.
COVID-19, or “coronavirus”, a life-threatening respiratory illness, has significantly affected our day-to-day lives. People are being laid off from jobs, while others are self-isolating because of the possible consequences to themselves and loved ones.
Even sports have been affected, with every league either canceling their season altogether or taking a hiatus until this outbreak can be controlled. That includes the NHL, who decided to pause their season but hope to resume in time to hold the Stanley Cup playoffs. If that comes to fruition, the Tampa Bay Lightning will likely face off against either the Toronto Maple Leafs or Florida Panthers in the first round.
Which team do they hold an advantage over in a potential playoff series? Going based on regular season head-to-head meetings alone, that would be the Panthers, but based on last season we know playoffs are a whole different animal. So let’s dig into the numbers and see what can be concluded from there.
Based on the four regular season matchups, the Lightning hold a significant edge when it comes to even strength scoring. Their 11 goals while playing 5-on-5 more than double the Panthers five.
If things are broken down further, the Bolts would have swept the season series instead of taking 3 of 4 games had they shown a little more discipline early on.
Tampa Bay allowed two power play goals in a 4-3 loss to the Cats on Oct. 5 in Sunrise. It’s not a stretch to say that those special teams blunders decided the outcome of this particular game.
Another aspect of hockey that can make a difference between winning and losing is special teams. Whether you’re scoring on the power play or killing penalties, there’s no doubt that your play whether up or down a man is vital to helping the team in their pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Both the Lightning and Panthers are known for their power play prowess so it’s not surprising that these teams are practically even when it comes to scoring with the man advantage. The numbers bear this out, as Tampa Bay has four power play goals to Florida’s three in the season series.
Using the above numbers, one can conclude the penalty kills were fairly even as well. The Bolts kill was 100 percent Oct. 3 and Dec. 10, while it clicked at 75 percent on Dec. 23. The only tough game for those guys was Oct.5 when they allowed Mike Hoffman to score twice on three opportunities for about a 66 percent success rate.
This area can make or break a game and season. Yes, defense wins championships but in hockey the best defense is your goaltender. If they can consistently make saves, the team has a higher probability of making the playoffs.
For the Lightning, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been a model of consistency in net throughout much of his still young career. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner struggled early in the 2019-20 campaign, but from December on he’s been nothing short of sensational. His numbers against the Panthers prove that, as he went 1-1-0 and allowed six goals against in two October meetings. When the Cats and Bolts met two months later, Vasilevskiy went 2-0-0, allowing a total of two goals against.
On the other side, free agent acquisition Sergei Bobrovsky kept the Panthers afloat early on before falling off a little as the calendar got ready to turn towards 2020. Against Tampa Bay, he allowed three or more goals in every game except the Dec. 10 matchup. In that game, he made 46 saves on 48 shots for a .958 save percentage but was let down by an offense that managed only 28 shots on Vasilevskiy.
Who would get the upper hand in a playoff series?
Taking into account the areas that would likely decide a game, it can be concluded that the Lightning hold an advantage over the Panthers in a seven game playoff series. It would be close though, as both Bobrovsky and Vasilevskiy have been streaky this season and Florida’s power play can be lethal.
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