Three points separate the Tampa Bay Lightning from the Florida Panthers for the lead in the Atlantic Division heading into the NHL All-Star break. The Panthers also own most points in the league right now with 69, and they are hoping to parlay that success into their second-ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.

However, the toughest part of the road to the Cup for Florida again this year is that the team will most likely have to go through Tampa Bay in the playoffs. Odds are one of these clubs will make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, and both are listed as +425 co-favorites (bet $100 to win $425) to take home the Prince of Wales Trophy at online sportsbook BetOnline.

The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning are trying to accomplish something that has not been done since 1985 when the Edmonton Oilers played for the Cup in three consecutive years. No team has hoisted the Cup in three straight years either since the New York Islanders won four in a row between 1980 and 1983.

Are Panthers Built to Knock Off Lightning?

Florida fell to Tampa Bay in the first round of last year’s playoffs after winning the last three meetings of the regular season and finishing with a better record. The Panthers were outscored 24-17 over six games in their playoff series against the Lightning, getting blanked 4-0 by eventual Conn Smythe Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy in the decisive Game 6.

So what can Florida do differently this time around against Tampa Bay? That is a very good question since the Lightning has the championship experience needed to hoist the Cup for a third straight time. The big difference this year though is that Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (23-4-3, 2.56 Goals Against Average) is playing at a much higher level than he did last season. He will need to be better than Vasilevskiy (25-7-4, 2.23), who remains the best in the world until proven otherwise.

Can Hurricanes or Another Team Spoil the Party?

The Carolina Hurricanes lead a group of additional contenders for the Eastern Conference crown at +500. The Hurricanes are currently tied with the New York Rangers (+900) atop the Metropolitan Division and have been close to making it to the Stanley Cup Final the last few years.

Carolina seemingly upgraded at goalie this past offseason with Frederik Andersen (24-6, 2.01) taking over between the pipes, as the former netminder of the Toronto Maple Leafs (+525) is enjoying a career year. However, time will tell if Andersen can maintain his current pace or if his former team the Maple Leafs is actually better without him.

Toronto and the Pittsburgh Penguins (+700) are two more teams to watch in the East that could make it to the Stanley Cup Final. The Maple Leafs and Penguins could be Wild Card teams that get hot at the right time and ride the momentum all the way.

Matty Simo

"Vegas Matty" Simo is a Las Vegas-based writer who has covered the sports betting scene since 1996. His strong passion for sports, betting, writing, and everything Vegas-related has made him a go-to source for gamblers over the past two decades. Odds are you will find him either at a sportsbook, cheering on the Golden Knights, or behind his computer writing articles for GO and Odds Shark, where he has served as a contributor since 2014.

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