NHL weekend preview: Panthers to claw their way back into series

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There are a lot of questions heading into a weekend full of playoff action. Will the New York Rangers pay for squandering an impressive Game 1 showing? Which contrasting style will prevail in St. Louis? Will the favored Florida Panthers be on the brink of elimination by Sunday?

Let's answer some of those questions as we look at the best way to attack the betting board over the next few days.

Rangers (+145) @ Hurricanes (-175)
May 20, 8:00 p.m. EST

The Rangers impressed me with their effort in Game 1. They not only hung in at five-on-five, they actually dictated play for most of the game. That's hard to do against a team like the Carolina Hurricanes, especially on the road.

It didn't really matter, though. The Hurricanes were asleep at the wheel for much of the night, putting forth a lifeless showing. They still managed to prevail when all was said and done.

While the Hurricanes were outshot by a couple, they had more scoring chances - standard and high-danger - than the Rangers. That's not to say they put together a good performance. I'd be ignorant to suggest otherwise for a team that showed up for 20-25 minutes.

But New York mostly played a great road game and it still wasn't enough. I don't expect the Rangers to roll over by any means but I do think the Hurricanes will use the opener as a wake-up call and come out with a much better effort.

They know they need to be better and they have now found out which line combinations won't work, and which will.

Expect them to make the necessary adjustments - like pulling Max Domi from the top-six - and put together a more Hurricanes-esque performance.

Bet: Hurricanes in regulation (-105)

Avalanche (-160) @ Blues (+135)
May 21, 8:00 p.m. EST

What a difference a game makes. The Colorado Avalanche were all over the St. Louis Blues in the opener, piling up scoring chances at will. The only thing keeping the game close was their persistence with hitting the post (four times!).

It was a much different story in Game 2. The Blues made life very difficult on the Avalanche from start to finish. They spent much more time on the front foot and did a good job of neutralizing Colorado's speed through the neutral zone. It felt like the Avs always had a player or two on top of them, forcing them to get rid of the puck before they really got going. The end result was a pretty convincing three-goal win for the Blues.

Where does that leave us? Probably somewhere in the middle. The Blues are not as bad as they looked for much of Game 1 while the Avalanche are far better than they showed on Thursday night.

The aggregate numbers - Colorado has controlled 57.6% of the expected goals at five-on-five - are probably a little more telling.

The Avalanche have been the better team at full strength as a whole and I expect that to remain the case over the course of the series.

If they can stay out of the box and keep a lethal Blues power play off the ice, they should be able to reclaim a series lead on Saturday.

Bet: Avalanche (-160)

Panthers (-110) @ Lightning (-110)
May 22, 1:30 p.m. EST

The Panthers are in deep trouble. They find themselves down a pair of games to the back-to-back Stanley Cup winners and now have to travel - albeit not far! - to play a pair of games on the road. Not ideal.

Although their chances of winning the series are now in grave danger, I don't think the Panthers are going to roll over and essentially hand the Tampa Bay Lightning a victory in Game 3.

Florida has generally played pretty well in this series. They've controlled 54% of the expected goals at five-on-five and generated shots at a much higher rate.

The Lightning have simply done a great job of getting in the shooting lanes and/or pouncing on loose pucks to prevent second-chance opportunities. They've also been consistently threatening on the power play while the Panthers have yet to score once through eight playoff games.

With something - anything - from the power play, this could be a much different series. I don't imagine the Panthers will suddenly flip the switch and score two or three in Game 3 but if they can muster up even one, they should be in pretty good shape given how they've hung in at five-on-five.

It's easy to point fingers and say they've played terrible across the board but the goals are even at full strength and Florida has nearly 30 more shot attempts and a handful more chances.

With functional special teams, they could return to dangerous form. I expect we're going to see some changes and, ideally, a better showing with their backs up against the wall.

Look for them to claw their way back into the series - at least for a couple of days - on Sunday.

Bet: Panthers (-110)

Todd Cordell is a sports betting writer at theScore. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @ToddCordell.

NHL weekend preview: Panthers to claw their way back into series
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