Have faith: Canadiens won't be swept


As soon as the Montreal Canadiens finished off the Winnipeg Jets, the talk in the hockey world shifted to whether they would even win a game in the semifinals against either the Vegas Golden Knights or Colorado Avalanche. 

Will the Canadiens be such a big underdog that being swept by one of those teams will be the most likely outcome? No. In fact, it’s crazy talk. Sweeps happen. We’ve seen three in these playoffs alone. However, for one team to win four games in a row, a lot has to go right for them, and a lot has to go wrong for their opponent. Sure, it might seem like we can see a sweep coming from a mile away sometimes (think the Avalanche sweeping the St. Louis Blues in the first round) but things rarely work out like that and when they do, our recollection of the series is usually clouded by hindsight bias and other mental blocks. 

Since 2006, 237 series have been played and only 30 (12.7%) have ended in a sweep. In the semifinals, it’s happened only four times out of 30 (13.3%) and no team has been swept in the final round since 1998. In other words, every season there are teams that defy the odds, making it to the final four or beyond, and rarely do they get swept. 

There are 70 ways that best-of-seven series can play out (35 a side), and using the Monte Carlo method to simulate a series is something novice sports bettors should be aiming to learn early on. We won’t get into the meat and potatoes here, but doing the math on these problems is relatively easy once you’re set up in Microsoft Excel. I estimated just how big of a favorite a team would have to be in order for a sweep to be the most likely outcome in a given series and here’s what I found. For a sweep to be the most likely outcome in a series, the favorite would have to have an implied win percentage of 76.5% in a given game, and in that case the sweep would still be expected to happen only about 34% of the time. The St. Louis Blues were no match for the Avalanche, yet the latter were priced around -300 at home and -210 on the road. The Canadiens are better than the Blues. How much better? Well, that’s up for debate. By my estimation, the Avalanche would sweep the Canadiens about 17% of the time. When I handicapped the Avalanche’s chances of sweeping the Blues, I landed on it happening one out of every five times. If the Canadiens match up against the Golden Knights, I estimate they would lose in four games approximately 15% of the time.


Although I did believe the value was on the New York Islanders at 165 heading into Monday’s Game 5, the Boston Bruins should not be counted out. They are never out of it, as they have shown throughout this series despite coming up short on a couple of occasions. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they have not gotten the bounces needed to extend early leads and close out games. If they lose the series, the narrative won’t include the fact that sometimes the puck just doesn’t go in. It might sound like a lazy way of thinking, but the Bruins have had their chances to drive a nail into this series on numerous occasions. That being said, I give full credit to the Islanders for never wilting and capitalizing on their opportunities. They battled back into a series in which they trailed twice and put themselves in a position to come away with a rather lucky win in a pivotal game.

The Bruins had approximately 65 shot attempts on Monday and had some really good looks. According to Evolving Hockey, the Bruins had about 65 percent of the expected goals as well. Those numbers have been adjusted for score and venue, the latter of which will be different on Wednesday. Home ice has been kind to the Islanders, and it allows them to play their game. It’s going to be a tough environment with a raucous crowd at Nassau Coliseum. The Bruins have a wealth of playoff experience, though, so expect a big push from them. They’ll just have to try to drown out the noise. I estimate the Bruins will force a seventh and deciding game approximately 59% of the time, which works out to fair odds of -145, and I’ll be backing the Bruins at -130 or better on Wednesday. As far as an adjusted series price goes, the Islanders will win the series 63% of the time, which translates to odds of -170. In turn, the Bruins’ chances of winning the series after trailing 3-2 are about 37% or 170.


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