For the first time since 1993, the Montreal Canadiens are in the Stanley Cup Final, and a nostalgic feeling has come over hockey fans across Canada. However, while the current team has been following a script similar to previous Canadians squads, they’re not the main characters. This is not an underdog story, as much as it’s a story about how pundits, fans -- and bettors -- are underestimating the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second year in a row.
Much like the Dallas Stars in 2020, the Canadiens defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in under seven games, despite being big underdogs. Now, just like the Stars, the Canadiens find themselves with more favorable odds versus the Lightning, the best team in hockey, and that doesn’t add up. Therefore, instead of trying to find links between current events and those that took place almost 30 years ago, bettors should look no further than the finale of the 2020 playoffs for insight. The Canadiens play a style that is comparable to the Stars as they too have a strong defensive posture that makes it tough on opposing teams to generate chances off the rush.
The problem here is that the Canadiens -- like the Stars -- are probably going to be spread thin against a deep Lightning team. For example, one of the Canadiens’ biggest weapons has been their top forward line. They haven’t been lighting it up offensively, but Artturi Lehkonen, Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher have been shutting down the opposition's best players. According to Natural Stat Trick, the trio has yet to allow a goal in almost 100 minutes of five-on-five ice time together in these playoffs. However, they’ll almost certainly be tasked with shutting down the Lightning’s top line, which has been dynamic to say the least.
Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat are going to be nearly impossible to stop, and even if the Canadiens are successful, they’ll have other problems to deal with. Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli and Yanni Gourde are all capable of chipping in offensively at any moment, and the Lightning have several impact players on the back end. Andrei Vasilevskiy has also been outstanding and looks to be on a mission to prove any of his left-over doubters wrong. Carey Price is determined to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time, but don’t doubt Vasilevskiy’s desire to drink from it again.
Over at Bet MGM, the Lightning are listed as a -250 favorite to win the series. That’s a big drop off from the -475 price that the Golden Knights carried into the last round. The Canadiens were the value play in that series but not this time around. The Lightning’s odds of winning the series should be closer to -330. There is also value to be found in some of the many betting markets that are derived from the aforementioned series price.
At DraftKings, bettors can lay -118 on the Lightning to cover the series spread of 1.5 games. If the Lightning win in six games or less, that’s a winning wager. I estimate it’ll happen about 59% of the time, so the odds should be closer to -145. Additionally, there is value in betting on the Lightning to cover the 2.5-game spread at + 190, which can be found at William Hill. It’s another value play, as the Lightning should win the game in five games or less about 40% of the time or + 150.
As far as betting on the total games in the series, if you like the Lightning as much as I do, lay the series price or bet the spread. Why would I bet under 5.5 games at + 116 when I could play the Lightning to cover the -2.5 series spread (which requires them to win in five games or less) at + 190? It’s illogical, but for those wondering, it’s easy to calculate prices for the total number of games. For example, if we’re trying to estimate how often the series will end in five games or less, we would simply add up the probabilities that fit that criteria (i.e. the chances that either team wins in four or five games). In this case, using my estimates above, those probabilities add up to about 46% which means that fair odds on the series going under 5.5 games are + 118; at DraftKings, it’s priced at + 116. There’s no value betting on the length of the series.
For those with Canadiens futures, this initial series price is probably your best time to pull off any sort of hedging strategy. There’s about a 65% chance that the Lightning will win the series opener, so things should only get tougher for you from here. That’s probably a tough pill to swallow for some that have dreams of cashing a 50-1 futures ticket, but it’s reality. Of course, the Canadiens could claim an early series lead, but more often than not it will be the Lightning who will come away with the win on Monday.
It’s all personal preference, but if you do decide to hedge, laying -250 might not look so bad on Tuesday.