Key points are on the line Tuesday night in Chicago as the Blackhawks (14-13-5) host the Florida Panthers (20-7-4). The Panthers are jockeying for the second spot in the Central Division with the Carolina Hurricanes while the Blackhawks are trying to fend off a surging Columbus Blue Jackets squad for fourth.
Florida has swept the season series so far, winning three of the games by multiple goals and taking the fourth game in overtime. As you might expect, the Panthers are favorites heading into Tuesday, checking in at (-150). Meanwhile, the home Hawks are (+123). Puck drop is at 8:00 P.M. Eastern on ESPN+.
Florida Panthers Preview
The Panthers have been flying high above expectations this season and could compete for home ice in the first round of the playoffs. The preseason point total was set at 63.5, and they were projected to finish sixth. If they continue at their current pace, they’ll be finishing the season around 79 points (on track for (36-13-7 record).
What isn’t surprising is seeing Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau at the top of the team points totals. Barkov leads the team with 13 goals and 24 assists, while Huberdeau has 11 goals and 24 assists. What is surprising is how well Patric Hornqvist has fit in with the team. Hornqvist has 12 goals and 13 assists to sit third on the team in points, and his versatility allows him to play anywhere in the lineup and in any situation.
I’m particularly interested in how Florida’s special teams’ units approach this game. Florida has the 10th best power play (25.5%) and 11th best penalty kill unit (81.1%). They’ll be matched up against Chicago’s third-ranked power play (28.0%) but the fourth-worst PK unit (72.5). If you can get a prop bet for a Florida power-play goal, take it.
Sergei Bobrovsky is the likely starter for the Panthers. Bobrovsky is 12-4-2 this season with a 2.97 GAA, and a .903 save percentage.
Defenseman Noah Juulsen may be returning to the lineup Tuesday as well. The 23-year-old was expected to have a larger role this season, but he has played in just four games after being on IR since March 1.
Chicago Blackhawks Preview
The Blackhawks started the season looking like a playoff contender. However, as they got into the tougher part of their schedule, they’ve hit the stumbling blocks. Chicago has lost four straight and seven of their last ten games. Six of those losses came in regulation, so they aren’t picking up overtime points to stay close.
Patrick Kane is garnering Hart Trophy buzz as the league’s most valuable player, but he’ll need an even stronger second half to catch Connor McDavid. This year, Kane has 12 goals and 30 assists and ranks third in the league in points.
Kevin Lankinen is the probable starter on Tuesday. Lankinen is in the Calder Trophy conversation for the league’s top rookie. This season, he has a 10-7-4 record with a 2.87 GAA, a .914 save percentage, and a shutout. He ranks third in wins among rookie goaltenders and fifth in save percentage among rookies with at least ten starts.
Anton Lindholm (fractured thumb) is close to a return but likely won’t play Tuesday. Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach, and Andrew Shaw are all out and don’t have a timetable for returning to play.
The Pick is In
One big twist to the season series is that all games so far between the two were played in Florida. The Panthers are 10-3-1 on the road this year, while the Blackhawks are 7-4-2 at home.
However, as the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Chicago hasn’t done much in the series to inspire confidence; they’re on a losing streak and are barely above .500 at home. Take the Panthers to win Tuesday night.
Free Betting Pick: Florida Panthers (-150)