The Florida Panthers have a chance to make up ground and hurt another contender at the same time Thursday night when they host the Philadelphia Flyers in their second meeting in four days. The Panthers vs Flyers odds have Florida at -130 on the moneyline Thursday.
Panthers vs Flyers odds
|Date||Thursday, Feb. 13|
|Time||7 p.m. ET|
|How to watch Panthers vs Flyers||NBCSN|
|Panthers vs Flyers moneyline||Panthers -130, Flyers +105|
|Panthers vs Flyers total goals||Over 6.5 (-120), Under 6.5 goals (+100)|
For most of their 27-year existence, the Panthers have largely been irrelevant.
There was the miracle run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996, only to be swept by Colorado. And the quirky, irreverent goal calls of former radio play-by-play man Randy Moller became a delight for their fans, and anyone winding down the night by surfing through Youtube.
But Florida officially got serious about winning on April 8, 2019, when it hired three-time Stanley Cup winner Joel Quenneville as its head coach.
Which is why its current standing – 30-20-6, 66 points, two points out of an Atlantic Division playoff spot and three points out of the final wild card – isn’t going to cut it.
Philadelphia captured a 4-1 win Monday night at home before Florida made the short trip to New Jersey for a 5-3 victory Tuesday night.
That the Panthers won in New Jersey wasn’t the surprise; the Devils are suffering through a terrible year. How they did it was stunning. Their best forward line Tuesday night was something that could be loosely called a fourth line.
Noel Acciari centered Mark Pysyk and Mike Matheson, who normally play on defense. Those in hockey refer to this as a helicopter line, because it had no wings. It had a combined three goals and five assists, though, a performance that even the Boston Bruins’ great first line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak could envy.
“They really did set the tone for our team, playing the right way,” Quenneville said. “I think that’s one thing about transitioning a defenseman to forward, you know they know how to keep themselves in the play. They’re good in the puck areas and they keep it simple.”
Injuries and illness forced Florida to dress eight defensemen, giving Pysyk and Matheson their opportunity to play at forward. While teams battling injuries and illness isn’t exactly unique in February, the Panthers’ real problem might be the guy who was supposed to be a $70 million solution.
Sergei Bobrovsky was their big offseason acquisition aside from Quenneville, coming over after eight mostly excellent seasons in Columbus. The former Vezina Trophy winner helped the Blue Jackets finally win a playoff series last April and reach the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Bobrovsky’s old form didn’t make the trip to south Florida. He enters Thursday’s game with a 3.27 goals-against average and an ugly .898 save percentage – numbers which would be the worst of his career. He’s lost his last four starts, ceding 13 goals on 129 shots.
But Quenneville isn’t yet ready to give up on his goalie.
“He’s one of the elite goalies of our game,” Quenneville said. “We think that the experience he brings our team is going to be important going down the stretch run. He’s had some great runs in a few different places.”
One day, Carter Hart could be that guy. The Flyers’ young goalie returned Monday night from a four-week absence with an abdominal muscle strain, producing a 30-save performance in their win over Florida.
Hart wasn’t sharp early, permitting a goal on the second shot he faced from Mackenzie Weegar, he of the four goals this season. But Hart gave up nothing else.
“He looked good, he looked calm, looked poised,” forward James van Riemsdyk said of Hart. “He made a lot of stops look easy.”
That’s one thing Philadelphia goalies haven’t always done in the last decade. Aside from Bobrovsky’s rookie season, 2010-11, when he played to a 2.59 GAA and .915 save percentage, the Flyers haven’t always experienced the best play in net.
Ilya Bryzgalov was supposed to solve those issues when he arrived in 2012. The nine years and $51 million spent on him were not the franchise’s best investment. Their best goalie last decade might have been Steve Mason, which explains why Philadelphia has won two playoff series since reaching the Stanley Cup Finals 10 years ago.
Hart could one day give them a chance for an extended playoff run. So does an offense that ranks eighth in the league in scoring under first-year coach Alain Vigneault. At 31-19-7, the Flyers occupy the last playoff spot in the East, yet are just five points out of second place in the Metropolitan Division.
That’s why this game is so critical. It’s the last time this season Philadelphia and Florida meet. The Panthers prevailed 5-2 in the first matchup back in November. The winner of this one gets two points that might make the difference in someone’s season.
For that reason, the smart wager might be to play the under on 6.5 goals.