Last time we checked on the Lighting’s first round playoff opponent probabilities, they had a reasonable chance of facing any of five different teams. They were still in good position to win the Atlantic and were most likely going to face the second wild card team. Things have changed a little since then, so let’s get an update on where they are heading into tomorrow’s big game against the Boston Bruins.
As always, we’ll use the First Round Matchups chart from HockeyViz. You can get access to all of the content on the site by signing up to the Patreon. The chart is updated through last night’s games including Boston’s comeback to take a point on the road in Winnipeg.
The Lightning’s recent losses combined with the Bruins’ wins have increased the likelihood that the Bolts slide to second in the Atlantic. Because of that, they now have over a 40% chance of facing the Leafs in the first round.
The model still has Tampa slightly favored to win the Atlantic. However, the gap is closing, and a loss against Boston tomorrow would probably push the chance of facing Toronto over 50%. It would also put the Bruins in the favored position to face the second wild card team.
After the Leafs, the other usual teams appear. The Devils and Panthers are now basically tied in terms of probability that they make the playoffs as the final seed. The Flyers and Blue Jackets are both more likely to finish higher in the standings and are, therefore, less likely to meet Tampa in the first round.
Tomorrow’s game between the Bolts and Bruins will obviously be big for both teams. The difference between playing the Leafs and playing either the Panthers or Devils is sizable. Neither the Panthers nor the Devils offer the challenge that the Leafs do in terms of lineup depth and coaching. The Leafs nearly defeated the Washington Capitals in the first round of last year’s playoffs. With another year of experience for their young stars, no one would be surprised if they beat whoever they play in the first round this year.
So with all of that in mind, let’s check in on what’s next for all of these teams including what to watch tonight while we all anxiously await tomorrow’s game.
What to Watch Today:
Florida Panthers at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7:30 PM EDT on FSFL
Implications: From the Lightning’s perspective, this game is all about the Panthers. The Leafs are pretty much locked into the third spot in the Atlantic and will face whoever finishes second the division. The Panthers are still trying to catch the Devils for the last spot in the playoffs.
Rooting interest here comes down to who you’d rather see the Lightning play if they win the division. I’d prefer an intra-Florida series so I’ll be rooting for the Panthers. Also, rooting for the Leafs seems gross. I don’t want to do that.
Philadelphia Flyers at Colorado Avalanche, 10:00 PM EDT on Alti, NSP+
This game is only slightly relevant for the Lightning. Every Flyers win makes them more likely to stay in the metro side of the bracket. Viewed that way, it probably makes sense to root for Philly because if the Lightning do win the Atlantic, a matchup against the Devils or Panthers would preferable to one against the Flyers.
They’re off tonight and play next on Thursday against the Lightning.
New Jersey Devils
They’re off tonight and play next on Thursday against the Penguins.
Columbus Blue Jackets
They’re off tonight and play next on Thursday against the Flames.