Panthers-Lightning series preview: Betting by the numbers

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The NHL history books will read like the Panthers had the easiest of the four first-round series in the Eastern Conference. While the three other series went the distance, Florida needing three straight wins (two in overtime) to come back from 2-1 down to the Capitals was no simple feat. As a result, the market has soured on the Presidents' Trophy winner, and its rating may have dipped.

Meanwhile, the Lightning are getting credit for their championship mettle, as media and fans alike excuse the Maple Leafs' loss. However, the reality is that the team that beat Toronto isn't the one that won the previous two Stanley Cups. Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and an injured Brayden Point aren't what did in the Leafs - Nick Paul's timely scoring did.

Andrei Vasilevskiy's minus-2.26 goals saved above expected at even strength didn't look remotely worthy of a Conn Smythe Trophy, even though his impressive statistics off a loss and in elimination games are still the first line in his bio.

So, as the series odds for the "Florida Fight" came to light Saturday night, the question being asked was: "Why are the Panthers favored?"

Series odds

TEAM GAME 1 SERIES SERIES HANDICAP
Panthers TBD -145 -1.5 (+140)
Lightning TBD +125  +1.5 (-180)

Projected prices

Hopefully, you used our NHL betting guide to evaluate your bets during the regular season and what value truly means in hockey. For the playoffs, we're using even-strength-centric metrics like expected goals and high-danger chance and conversion rates - both for and against - to try to predict who'll play better in the postseason.

True moneylines

The true moneyline takes the implied win probability for each team and converts it to an inverted price for each side before the sportsbook takes its vig on a bet.

The following is the expected price for each side when the games are played in Sunrise (Game 1, 2, 5, and 7) and Tampa (Game 3, 4, and 6).

PANTHERS LIGHTNING
True ML in Sunrise -191 +191
True ML in Tampa -120 +120
Series price -268 +268

The Panthers should be favored more. Though their rating dropped due to having issues with the Capitals, the Lightning had a similar dip. My numbers give the Panthers a 72.9% likelihood of winning this series, and even a generous home-ice advantage for the Lightning doesn't make up the gap between the two teams.

Price to bet

In the regular season, we'd need at least a 4% edge on an underdog and a 1% edge for the favorite. Using that same threshold, here are the prices to bet for each scenario:

GAME 1/2/5/7 GAME 3/4/6 SERIES
Panthers -183 -115 -255
Lightning +229 +141 +332

It's hard to imagine Point being able to go early in the series (if at all), and with the Panthers' outstanding regular-season metrics, the numbers are going to consistently lean their way.

Derivative series market

The following is the probability for each of the eight possible series results, along with a fair price for an exact result bet.

SERIES RESULT PROBABILITY/CONVERTED ODDS
Panthers 4-0 12.8% / +680
Panthers 4-1 22.8% / +338
Panthers 4-2 19% / +427
Panthers 4-3 18.2% / +449
Lightning 4-0 2.4% / +4000
Lightning 4-1 5.2% / +1818
Lightning 4-2 10% / +904
Lightning 4-3 9.5% / +948

The Panthers winning the series in five games is the best value on the board, with a whopping 22.8% probability and the market widely dealing that exact series result at +450. There's a small edge on under 5.5 games (+145), but Panthers -1.5 (+140) is even better given I have that as a small favorite (54.6%).

Best bets

While the Capitals were far friskier than I was willing to give them credit for in giving the Panthers trouble, the Lightning should have lost their series to Toronto, as they lacked an advantage in five-on-five play and special teams. You can excuse them for being tired after these past two years and credit them for grinding out a series win, but neither helps them going forward.

Sergei Bobrovsky held up nicely for the Panthers (plus-2.11 even-strength GSAx), and even though the offense converted even strength high-danger chances at an unsustainable rate (21%), there's room for players not named Carter Verhaeghe to step up.

The Lightning's 4-2 series win over the Panthers last season may scare some, but Tampa's 40% power play in those six games isn't replicable. Neither is its 24% HDC conversion rate while five-on-five.

With an augmented roster, improved goaltending, and preparation for what Tampa does on the power play - plus the discount we're getting based on the Lightning's reputation - we'll be betting the Panthers early and often.

Pick: Panthers to win series (-145)

Panthers series handicap -1.5 (+140)

Panthers series handicap -2.5 (+300)

Panthers win series 4-1 (+450)

Game 1: Panthers moneyline (-190 or better)

Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there's a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.

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Panthers-Lightning series preview: Betting by the numbers
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