Friday 7 p.m. ET
Free NHL Pick: Panthers ML
Best Line Offered: BetOnline
The 2018-19 season has not gone as planned for the Florida Panthers thus far. Plagued by injuries to star players like goalie Roberto Luongo and forwards Nick Bjugstad and Vincent Trocheck, and some team-wide underachieving, Florida has recently had to claw their way back into playoff contention. However, they’re still 7 points back of the Montreal Canadiens who currently hold the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and that makes Friday’s tilt with their Atlantic Division rivals even more important. The Panthers can grab that coveted 4-point swing with a win or they could get buried deeper in the standings. The gut feel here is that Florida does the former and here’s why:
The Panthers are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games and they’re getting healthier. Bjugstad is nearing a return and the team as a whole has been playing more to expectations. A healthy Luongo has obviously helped as well and if Luongo can replicate the dominant second half he had last season and Trocheck comes back, Florida could be poised for another run down the stretch, like last season when they barely missed the playoffs. There is too much skill on this club for them to be in the same position they were last season at this time and a win over the Habs Friday could start the turnaround earlier than last season.
Working in the Panthers favor for this game too is the fact that the Habs’ leading goal scorer, Brendan Gallagher, and forward Andrew Shaw missed practice Thursday and will be gametime decisions Friday. If they can’t go, especially Gallagher, that’s going to alter the plan of Montreal head coach Claude Julien and could mean less offense and passion without Gallagher, the team’s heart and soul. Another element working in the favor of Florida is the dreaded Florida road trip letdown that so many teams seem to suffer when they travel to the Sunshine State and play back-to-back games against the Panthers and the Lightning. Just look at the Boston Bruins, who in their recent tour through alligator alley went 0-2-0 and were embarrassed by the Panthers in a 5-0 shutout.
The one thing that the Habs going for them recently though, is the play of goalie Carey Price, who has looked a lot like the Carey Price of old and helped his team go 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. The Panthers will need to get to him early and not let the Habs score first and then clamp down in front of Price.
The Panthers are 15-20 against the spread and 7-11 at home. Florida has scored 115 goals and allowed 125. They’re 19-13-3 on the over/under and 8-6-2 at home. The Panthers are 17-18 on the puck line and 6-10 at home. Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers in assists with 33 helpers and points with 42. Evgeni Dadonov and Mike Hoffman lead the team in goals with 17 each.
The Habs are 19-18 against the spread and 9-9 on the road. Montreal has scored 115 goals and allowed 125. They’re 19-17-1 on the over/under and 9-8-1 on the road. The Canadiens are 23-14 on the puck line and 12-6 on the road. Max Domi leads the Habs in assists with 21 helpers and points with 35. Gallagher leads the team in goals with 15 lamplighters.
- For the Canadiens, Price is 15-10-0-4 with a 2.84 GAA and .904 save percentage. Antti Niemi is 4-3-0-1 with a 4.14 GAA and a .876 save percentage.
- For the Panthers, Luongo is 8-6-0-1 with a 3.00 GAA and .905 save percentage. James Reimer is 6-7-0-3 with a 3.45 GAA and .888 save percentage.
- Montreal was without Andrew Shaw (personal) and Gallagher (illness) at Practice Thursday. They’re gametime decisions Friday. The Canadiens placed defenseman David Schlemko (upper-body) on injured reserve Thursday and recalled defenseman Karl Alzner. Joel Armia (knee) remains out but could return soon.
- The Panthers remain without forward Nick Bjugstad (upper body) who is day-to-day and forward Vinny Trocheck (ankle) who is out indefinitely.
Prediction: Panthers 3 Canadiens 2 (OT)