The Stanley Cup finals commence tonight when the Montreal Canadiens visit the Tampa Bay Lightning – the latter looking to defend their championship title from last season.
The Canadiens return to the finals for the first time since 1993, finding themselves as sizeable underdogs yet again as they continue to garner little respect in the marketplace.
Below we’ll break down this matchup that many have already written off as a victory for Tampa Bay.
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Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.
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Montreal Canadiens (+165) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (-195)
Like their series against the Vegas Golden Knights, the ‘Habs will need to rely on their center depth, tight defensive strategy, and of course, goaltender Carey Price; to come out victorious.
Much of the attention will be focused on Tampa Bay’s top-tier talent, and rightfully so. Centerman, Brayden Point, leads the league with fourteen postseason goals; and linemate Nikita Kucherov reigns supreme with 27-points – good for first in the playoff scoring race.
However, the depth Montreal possesses down the middle has propelled them this far yet remains overlooked. Phillip Danault is a legitimate Selke candidate and having one of the best postseasons ever for someone who has yet to score. He has made superstars Auston Matthews, and Mark Stone look like mere mortals – holding Stone pointless in the series against Vegas.
The rest of the group comprised of Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Eric Staal provide exceptional depth that continues to be underrated. Suzuki, the centerpiece of the Max Pacioretty trade, is second in team scoring this postseason with 13-points while playing a complete two-way game.
Rookie right winger, Cole Caufield, has also been a boon for this Canadiens team. Acting and playing like a seasoned vet while scoring clutch goals like the one below:
this was nasty by Cole Caufield pic.twitter.com/nBjPcMBGEA
— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) June 25, 2021
The oddsmakers have made Tampa Bay a (-275) series favorite. Implying they win 73.3% of the time. But should they be this big of favorites based on their performance to date?
Below we’ll analyze each teams’ advanced metrics to date this postseason:
Number’s courtesy of Evolving-Hockey:
CF%: 48.98 (MTL) 50.02 (TB)
xGF%: 52.76 (MTL) 51.4 (TB)
GA/60: 1.99 (MTL) 1.8 (TB)
xGF/60: 2.26 (MTL) 2.31 (TB)
Though Tampa Bay is loaded with superstars, their numbers above are similar. They both control possession at a similar clip and are nearly even in expected goal percentage. The ‘Bolts have a slight edge in goals per 60 minutes, but it’s relatively negligible. Additionally, they hold an advantage in goals against per 60.
Speaking of goals against, this series will pit two of the best goaltenders in the NHL against one another – and they’ve both been incredible this postseason:
Carey Price (MTL):
Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB):
Despite Vasilevskiy’s shutout prowess, these two goaltenders possess near identical numbers. Both teams have enjoyed the advantage in net throughout these playoffs but will be evenly matched at puck drop.
Though Tampa Bay’s power play receives all the attention – converting at an astronomical 37.7% clip this postseason; Montreal’s penalty kill has been otherworldly, receiving far less recognition.
Presently, the Canadiens’ PK% stands at 93.5%. Additionally, they haven’t allowed a power-play goal in thirteen straight games – killing off thirty straight.
The ‘Bolts will be their biggest challenge yet, but this ‘Habs team deserves the benefit of the doubt in neutralizing the man advantage.
Due to the divisional realignment, these two teams did not square off against one another in the regular season. Between the world-class goaltenders and defensive-minded systems, I believe we’ll see both squads feeling each other out in Game 1, pointing to a low-scoring affair.
Pick: Under 5 (+102)
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