Florida Panthers at Columbus Blue Jackets

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The Florida Panthers will look to keep pace with the Central Division leaders when they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets to finish up a two-game set on Thursday night. Florida won the opening game of the series on Tuesday 4-2, cashing in as a -131 favorite on the moneyline and covering the -1.5 puckline. Columbus is currently out of playoff position in fifth in the Central at 10-12-5, while Florida is two points out of the lead in third at 16-5-4.

This is the fourth meeting between these teams so far this year after they split an early-season two-game series in Columbus, with both games going to a shootout. Columbus has dominated the all-time series 24-11.

Bobrovsky dominates series opener

The Panthers have been one of the biggest surprises in the NHL so far this year and continued their winning ways in Columbus on Monday behind an excellent performance from Sergei Bobrovsky in goal against his old team. Patric Hornqvist and Owen Tippett scored on the power play in the second period to put Florida up 3-1, and while Columbus drew closer midway through the third, Carter Verhaeghe sealed the win with an empty-net goal.

Bobrovsky was the star, stopping 38 of 40 Columbus shot attempts as the Panthers were largely outplayed otherwise. MacKenzie Weegar was the only player in the game to finish with multiple points, as he dished out assists to Verhaeghe and Juho Lammikko.

“[Bobrovsky] was unreal tonight,” Lammikko said to the Associated Press. “A lot of huge saves, especially in the third. He gets the lead, and it was fun to watch him. It was awesome.”

The Panthers are just 12-13 against the spread as many of their wins have been by one goal, but have generally been a strong team to bet straight up, especially after taking a series from the heavily favored Tampa Bay Lightning last month. Overs are 13-11-1 for the Panthers after the empty netter put the total over 5.5 goals on Tuesday, and five of their last six games have either pushed or gone over the betting total.

Florida has one of the NHL best’s offenses, ranking fourth in goals at 3,32 per game while leading the league in shots at 34 and converting a strong 25.97% on the power play. The Panthers defense ranks mid-pack, allowing 2.8 goals and 31 shots per game while killing off 78.08% of penalties.

Jonathan Huberdeau is seventh in the NHL with 30 points, while Hornqvist now matches him atop the Florida leaderboard with 10 goals. Bobrovsky has been hot of late, bringing his season stats to a 0.905 save percentage and 2.94 goals-against average in 13 starts with a 9-2-2 record.

Defenseman Anton Stralman has been out for the last two games with a lower-body injury and is questionable to return on Thursday. Fellow defenseman Noah Juulsen, a former first-round pick who came over from Montreal this season, remains out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury. Winger Anthony Duclair, who has 10 points in 19 games this year, will likely be out until next week with a lower body injury.

Blue Jackets can’t break through

The Blue Jackets have a lot of work to do in the next two months to make the playoffs and have now lost seven of their last nine games after failing to break through against Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner with Columbus. Michael Del Zotto scored in the second period before Oliver Bjorkstrand brought the Blue Jackets within 3-2 midway through the third, but they couldn’t get another one in the net despite putting on a lot of pressure down the stretch.

Eric Robinson, Alexander Texier and Zach Werenski all picked up assists for the Blue Jackets. Joonas Korpisalo had a solid game allowing three goals in 32 shots faced, but it wasn’t enough to match Bobrovsky on the other side.

“We had a lot of chances,” forward Cam Atkinson said after leading the Blue Jackets with seven shots on goal via The Associated Press. “It was one of those nights where we just couldn’t bury it for whatever reason, but I thought we played a pretty decent game.”

The Blue Jackets have not been a profitable team to bet on as they have fallen short of expectations, and are just 11-16 against the spread as a result. Overs are 11-14-2 for Columbus, with Tuesday’s game snapping a streak of seven straight unders or pushes.

Columbus is really struggling to score, as it ranks near the bottom of the NHL with 2.59 goals and 28.9 shots per game on just 15.49% on the power play. The Blue Jackets are also in the bottom 10 of goals allowed per game with 3.22 on 31.1 shots per game allowed and 72.73% on the penalty kill.

Atkinson leads the Blue Jackets with 10 goals, while Bjorkstrand has matched him atop the Columbus leaderboard with 19 points. Korpisalo has a 7-9-4 record in 20 starts with a 3.15 goals-against average and 0.895 save percentage.

Winger Gustav Nyquist may miss the entire regular season with a torn labrum after putting up 42 points in his first year with Columbus in 2019-20. Veteran center Brandon Dubinsky remains out indefinitely with a wrist injury. Goaltender Elvis Merzlikins was activated off injured reserve on Tuesday and could play in his first game since February 20 on Thursday.

The Bottom Line
What to bet on this game.

Full-Game Side Bet

Many were skeptical of Florida’s fast start earlier in the season, but the Panthers just keep winning even against stronger competition and have the metrics to back it up. Florida certainly looks like the better team in this matchup as Columbus has really struggled the last three weeks, and with these odds, there is some great value on Florida.

The Panthers rank as one of the NHL’s best offenses by pretty much any metric including racking up 33.6 expected goals on the season, as Hornqvist and Verhaeghe have proven to be excellent additions alongside some good in-house talent. Goaltending has been more of a question as Bobrovsky has mostly struggled since signing a massive seven-year deal, but he’s looked great lately posting a save percentage over 0.930 in four of his last six games.

Even if Columbus manages another strong offensive performance on Thursday, which is not guaranteed given its season numbers, Bobrovsky is locked in right now, and the Blue Jackets are going to have major problems on defense in this matchup all season. Florida should be a favorite of closer to -150 given how both teams are playing at the moment.

Florida Panthers -129

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Full-Game Total Pick

The Blue Jackets did dominate the run of play on Tuesday with a strong offensive performance, and will put up at least a couple of goals here if they can repeat that performance, even against a hot goalie. The season numbers for the Blue Jackets are not pretty, but they’ve only had 17 games since trading for star Patrik Laine, who could start scoring goals at a high clip at any time.

Columbus’ defense is among the worst in the NHL, allowing 35.5 expected goals and 83 high danger chances on the season, so the strong Panthers offense can do most of the damage here. Merzlikins has been better than Korpisalo if he is able to play tommorow, but still isn’t at the level where he can shut down Florida.

Over 5.5 (-105)