Panthers, Lightning co-favored to win Atlantic Division
The Florida Panthers appeared poised to run away and hide from the competition in the Atlantic Division when the NHL All-Star break hit, but the race is on again with less than two months remaining in the regular season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have gone from a +185 second-choice to a +115 co-favorite with their in-state rivals to win the Atlantic over a one-month span. The Panthers were priced at +105 exactly one month ago.
Let’s dive into the race for the Atlantic Division crown to see who the better bet is at this point in time.
Atlantic Division Winner 2021/2022
Sat, April 30 2022, 4:00 AM
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
Detroit Red Wings
The case for the Panthers
After a bizarre two-week break in February, Florida came out strong with three straight wins on the road, followed by three puzzling defeats at home. Perhaps it was the law of averages at work, as the Panthers were practically unbeatable at FLA Live Arena early in the campaign, and fairly mediocre when they traveled.
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has been solid between the pipes this year, going 27-6-3 with a 2.56 GAA and .916 save %, but he is prone to slumping, as was the case when he allowed six goals in back-to-back starts to close out February. But he appears to have bounced back with a 3-0 shutout triumph over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.
Forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov have been highly productive on offense this season, and defenseman Aaron Ekblad has made a run at the Norris Trophy. With one of the softest remaining schedules in the NHL, the Panthers are far from cooked in this competition.
The case for the Lightning
The Lightning have played just seven times since the All-Star break, going 5-2 in that span. Top forwards Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov have all played at better than a point-a-game pace in that stretch.
Strengthening the argument for Tampa is Andrei Vasilevskiy, one of the most reliable netminders in hockey (29-9-4, 2.32 GAA, .921 save %).
The Bolts are just one point behind Florida with a game in hand as of Friday morning.
Can the Maple Leafs make a push?
The Toronto Maple Leafs are also within striking distance of the Atlantic Division lead, as they sit three points behind the Panthers with an equal number of games played.
Auston Matthews is just one goal off the lead for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, Mitch Marner is on pace for his best season since 2018-19, and rookie Michael Bunting has thrown his hat into the ring for Calder Trophy consideration.
However, the Leafs’ odds have drifted from +260 to +375 over the last month for a reason. They’re a modest 6-5-1 since the All-Star break, with 45 goals allowed (3.75 per game). The goaltending will have to be addressed if Toronto wants to stay in the Atlantic Division hunt.
The Lightning will face a demanding test in March with 10 of their next 12 games occurring on the road, highlighted by a grueling trek across Western Canada. The upcoming schedule favors Florida, so the Panthers look like the best bet to win the Atlantic at this point.