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NHL weekend bets: Panthers to claw past Lightning

Eliot J. Schechter / National Hockey League / Getty

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We have just one NHL game on Friday's schedule, but there's a play that pops off the page. Let's take a closer look at that as well as one of my favorite sides for a busy Saturday slate.

Martin Necas: Over 0.5 points

Note: Puck drop is at 9 p.m. EST on Friday.

Coyotes starter Connor Ingram recently suffered an injury that will take him out of the lineup for the next week or so. That means Karel Vejmelka will get extra reps, which is good news for opposing offenses.

After beginning the year with a few quality starts, Vejmelka's wheels have fallen off. He's allowed at least three goals in 10 of 14 starts since mid-November and posted an underwhelming .890 save percentage in that time.

Of Vejmelka's four competent showings, three were back-to-back-to-back nearly two months ago. They also came against the Sabres, Senators, and Sharks.

Vejmelka consistently gives up goals in bulk, especially to quality teams like the Hurricanes. I don't expect that to change this time around.

Necas is the focal point of a second line that's dominated opponents at even strength. Alongside Jack Drury and Michael Bunting, Necas has helped generate better than 86 shot attempts and 3.0 expected goals per 60 minutes.

He's shooting the puck a ton and facilitating a lot of the offense as the most skilled player on his unit. It's leading to results: Necas has found the scoresheet in seven of 10 games, piling up 10 points in that span.

The Coyotes bleed shots both at five-on-five and while shorthanded, and Ingram isn't there to bail the team out. I like Necas' chances of finding the scoresheet once again.

Odds: -132 (playable to -145)

Panthers @ Lightning

Note: Puck drop is at 5 p.m. EST on Saturday.

The Panthers are playing as well as any team in the league. They own an 8-2-0 record over the last 10 games and are a remarkable 13-3-2 in 2024.

They dominate the run of play every night, controlling nearly 59% of the expected goals share at even strength. That's a ridiculously strong total to maintain.

I think they're the best team in the East and expect them to showcase that against the Lightning, as they so often do.

The Panthers faced the Lightning three times over the calendar year of 2023. They won all three meetings, outscoring them 14-4 while generating 121 shots. The Bolts couldn't slow them down defensively and Andrei Vasilevskiy couldn't bail them out.

I see a similar story playing out on Saturday. Although the Lightning are playing well, their xG share places them in the middle of the league in 2024.

Mikhail Sergachev, who the Bolts were excited to get back, is now out for the long haul. I don't see much room for improvement in Tampa Bay without him.

Look for Florida's dominant five-on-five game and impressive forward depth to be the difference against the Lightning.

Bet: Panthers (good to -130)

Todd Cordell is a sports betting writer at theScore. You can follow him on X at @ToddCordell.

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