Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 2:30 PM EST.
Tampa Bay -½ +141 over FLORIDA
8:08 PM EST. Regulation only. We could wax poetic about the Lightning here, but there will be time for that another day, as this will not likely be the last time they are featured in this space. Today's wager has little to do with them anyway, as it is the Panthers who are in our sights.
Let's get this out of the way early; Florida is a great hockey team. Not good. Great. They roll four lines and have some of the youngest, fastest skaters in the game. Sam Bennett looks rejuvenated after his disappointing Flames career and he appears to have all the skill one would expect from a top-five draft pick. On defense, even without Aaron Ekblad, the Cats are more than capable. So if the Panthers seemingly have it all and in bunches, why are they staring down a 3-1 series deficit? They have no goalie. Now, they have goalies on the roster, but none were capable of keeping Florida out of this mess and we don't believe that one is going to be able to dig them out of it. First up was Sergei Bobrovsky and his $70-million contract. When you make that kind of scratch, you should probably get the nod, but "Bob" did not fare well in a Game 1 loss and was replaced by Chris “Beer League" Driedger, who gave up seven goals across back to back starts in Games 2 and 3 before getting the hook in the latter. Sure, the Panthers would come back to win a thriller in overtime but "Beer League'' was watching from the bench. In Game 4, Florida went back to Beer League’s replacement, "Bob," and for that, the Panthers paid dearly to the tune of a 6-2 matinee romp on Saturday. Now what?
Panthers' coach Joel Quenneville's head is spinning at the moment, as he tries to come up with a miracle solution to what ails this team. If you were a keen observer at practice yesterday, you may have noticed that rookie Spencer Knight was in the starter's crease. While Knight has not been confirmed, all signs say the kid is going to play. We've already seen him touted by the locals, who have pointed to his 4-0 record this season, which is backed by a 2.32 goals against average, as to why he should get the nod. It looks like a no-brainer on the surface, as the kid was a first round draft pick (13th overall) in 2019 and he might just be the spark the Cats need to claw back. However, a closer look shows that he was feasting on weak competition in his four regular season starts. Wins over Dallas, Chicago, Nashville and Columbus are not going to impress us. Three of those squads did not make the playoffs and the one that did, Nashville, should not have. Do you know why the Predators are tied with Carolina right now? Two words, Jusse Saros. If Florida had Saros, they'd be cup contenders. Back to Knight, who had miserable SV%'s of .862 against the Stars and .889 against the Blackhawks, both starts. A nine save relief appearance versus the Preds and a 33 save performance against the Jackets boosts those poor outings to the misleading .919 save percentage he sports on his stat line.
Whether or not it is fair to put the weight of the Panthers’ season on the shoulders of a young man who has played in just four games this season will likely be debated when the dust settles on this series, which from our perch looks as though it's going to end sooner rather than later. The closeout game is often one of the toughest to win, but when the other team has no goalie, that difficulty is brought down immensely. There is no right decision for Quenneville. No matter what he does, it's going to be the wrong call. Dude has three goalies, one is a beer-league goalie, one is being paid 70 million to sit because he’s so bad and the other still has his training wheels on. Meanwhile, the defending Stanley Cup champions are ready, willing and able to put the Panthers out of their misery. That the Bolts are priced in a similar range today as to what they were prior to Game 2 looks to be one of the better bargains on the board today. Another crooked number by the Bolts today is not out of the question. So much so, we're betting on it.
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Tampa Bay -½ +141 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.82)