|Time||7 p.m. ET|
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After rounding out their roster with some notable additions at the deadline, the Florida Panthers will begin the home stretch towards what should be a very promising postseason as they take on the upstart Canadiens on Thursday evening.
Montreal gave one of the hottest teams in the league all it could handle Monday against Boston, but can the Canadiens keep it close against the Panthers?
Should the Panthers finish above Carolina for tops in the East, it could serve as a big boost to their playoff chances. Florida would then most likely meet Washington, who should be viewed as the easiest first-round matchup in the conference, especially as the other wildcard spot will still be a very strong club in Boston or Toronto.
The Panthers will be best served to continue to clean up the manageable points, and after six days off they should be raring to go at the Bell Centre on Thursday.
Florida’s stacked top-nine up front looks even more formidable now, with Claude Giroux set to make his much anticipated Panthers debut on the top line alongside Alex Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe.
The Panthers also paid a steep price to bolster it’s back end with the addition of Ben Chiarot, who will look to find better form with a change of scenery on the Panthers. Defenseman Robert Hagg was also acquired at the deadline from Buffalo.
Both will need to step in and help pick up the slack left from the injury to Aaron Ekblad, who has arguably been Florida’s MVP, even if Jon Huberdeau grabs all the headlines with his lofty point totals.
That is the concern entering this matchup, but outside of that the Panthers have remained dominant this month, playing to a 7-1-1 record with a spectacular 60.26 expected goals rate.
Sergei Bobrovsky should start here, looking to build on a great bounce-back season in which he has played to a +21.0 goals saved above expected rating with a .917 save % throughout 41 games played.
Monday’s competitive affair on home-ice goes as another comment towards the turnaround Martin St. Louis has instilled in this Canadiens group, as Montreal pushed the Bruins to overtime before falling to a Brad Marchand winner.
Although there’s been a lot of positives again this month, overall the Canadiens have played to a less than strong 47.39 expected goals rate through 10 games and I think we will see them start to trend downwards results wise.
The current roster still yields some notably below-replacement level players, and I do feel that we are probably at somewhat of a high water mark now in this turnaround from the Canadiens.
In the month of March Florida have continued to be profitable against the puck-line with a 5-4 record and consistency that has been there throughout the season. Anytime we see this Panthers team at near a pick ’em to cover -1.5 against less than elite competition, it’s worth a look.
While Montreal has been much better defensively of late, it’s still hard for me to envision the bodies playing on the back end handling a Florida offense which comes at you with elite talent line after line.
The six days off for Florida may look to be past the ideal amount of time to some, but in only two contests played after six or more days off this season the Panthers have gone 2-0, beating the Rangers and putting together a huge win in Carolina.
I think we will see Florida eager to get back in action in one of hockey’s best atmospheres here at the Bell Centre, so I’m not overly concerned about a letdown.
At -105 I feel we have enough value to ride the Panthers -1.5 yet again, and I would play that down to -125.
Pick: Florida Panthers -1.5 (-105)
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