The Action Network: Canadiens vs. Lightning, Game 1 odds, analysis

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The Action Network is providing NHL.com readers with odds and analysis for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Today, a look at Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Canadiens at Lightning Stanley Cup Final Game 1 odds

Canadiens odds: +165
Lightning odds: -200
Series moneyline: Lightning -250/Canadiens +200
Over/Under: 5
Time: 8 p.m. ET

Note: If you’re new to betting, the Lightning’s -200 odds mean a $200 bet would profit $100 if they win the game. Conversely, the Canadiens’ +165 odds mean a $100 bet would net $165. Convert odds using The Action Network’s Betting Odds Calculator.

The Stanley Cup Final rarely features two teams that everyone saw coming. Three seasons ago, the Vegas Golden Knights made it to the Final in their inaugural campaign. In 2019, the Blues went from worst to first to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time. And in 2020 it was the Dallas Stars who upset the Colorado Avalanche and Golden Knights before bowing out to the Tampa Bay Lightning. This year’s surprise package is the Montreal Canadiens.

The Habs came into the postseason with the worst record in the 16-team field, erased a 3-1 series deficit against the heavily-favored Maple Leafs in Round 1, made quick work of the Jets in Round 2 and then upset the Golden Knights as the biggest underdog of the postseason in the Stanley Cup Semifinals to become the first team since the 2006 Edmonton Oilers to win the first three rounds as underdogs to reach the Stanley Cup Final. But to become champions, the Habs will need to upset the odds once more.

Standing in the way of Montreal and a fairytale ending are the defending champion Lightning. Bookmakers have a little more faith in the Habs than they did against the Knights;┬áMontreal was upwards of +400 on the series moneyline against Vegas, but the odds are still stacked against the Canadiens. Tampa Bay currently sits as a -250 favorite to win the Cup, which translates to a 71.4% win probability. It may seem like that price is a little insulting to the Habs considering how well they’ve performed as underdogs, but bookmakers are not here to be sentimental and neither are the Lightning.

Tampa Bay has skated to a 12-6 record in the postseason and shown some championship-caliber versatility through the first three rounds. The Lightning have won some run-and-gun games, some goaltending battles and most recently they showed their defensive chops in a 1-0 win over the Islanders in Game 7. The Bolts limited the Isles to 18 shots, six high-danger scoring chances and 1.63 expected goals on Friday night. It was a defensive masterclass from the Bolts and showed, once again, that Tampa is the most versatile team in the NHL.

Expected goals (also known as xG) is a predictive statistic that gives an indication of whether results are based on sustainable factors like a steady creation of scoring chances, or whether it is down to aspects such as shooting luck or outstanding goaltending.

Simply put, an expected goals rate (xGF%) above 50% is considered good because it means a team is creating the majority of the scoring chances. Anything below 50% is usually a sign that a team is struggling to control play. xG numbers and advanced stats cited from Evolving Hockey, MoneyPuck and Natural Stat Trick.

The Lightning may not have dominated at 5-on-5 like we expect out of elite teams, but they are so good in every other phase of the game that they can make up those margins through special teams play or elite goaltending. The Islanders learned that lesson the hard way as they basically split the expected goals and high-danger scoring chances down the middle with the Bolts at 5-on-5 but Andrei Vasilevskiy and Tampa’s special teams were able to give the Lightning enough separation to advance through a razor-tight series.

With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how the 5-on-5 battle shakes out in this contest. The Lightning don’t need to control play at even strength to win, but it’s hard to imagine Montreal coming out on top without controlling the expected goals and scoring chances at 5-on-5.

The Habs certainly have that in their locker, as they have skated to a 52.76% expected goals rate and a 52.6% high-danger scoring chance rate through the first three rounds of the postseason.

When you consider that two of their opponents, the Maple Leafs and Golden Knights, are among the best 5-on-5 teams in the NHL, those numbers become even more impressive.

Posting strong play-driving numbers is nothing new to this team, either. Montreal has been an analytic darling for a couple of seasons now, but the problem was that the team couldn’t finish at a consistent enough clip to make those numbers stick. That problem has seemingly subsided with the infusion of finishing talent that general manager Marc Bergevin has brought into the fold.

Even with Montreal’s newfound scoring panache, this team is built from the back to the front. Carey Price has been sensational through the first three rounds, posting a .934 save percentage and a +12.1 Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx) in 17 games. While Montreal has had the edge in the blue paint for every series so far, the only goalie who has bested Price in both of those marks happens to be Vasilevskiy, who has skated to a .936 save percentage and an eye-popping +22.8 GSAx in 18 contests.

Price is the headliner for the Habs, but he’s certainly had a lot of help from his defense. Montreal thrives at defending against the rush and limiting quality scoring chances. That skillset showed against the Knights as 77 of Vegas’ 162 shots at 5-on-5 were graded as low-quality attempts by Natural Stat Trick.

And that doesn’t even get into perhaps the most impressive part of Montreal’s defense — the penalty kill.

While Price vs. Vasilevskiy is going to grab the headlines, the special teams battle is just as intriguing as it pits Tampa’s power play, which is clipping at 37.5%, against Montreal’s penalty kill, which has a record-setting 93.5% success rate. Being able to weather Tampa’s power play is a huge piece of the puzzle, and the Habs should feel confident that they have the chops to be able to accomplish that goal.

At the end of the day, the odds set the stage for what should be a thrilling series. Tampa Bay is a deserving favorite thanks to its overall portfolio, and nobody would be surprised if the Bolts prove to be too tall of a mountain for the Habs to climb. But, on the other hand, Montreal is not just some lucky Cinderella. The Canadiens have proven that they belong in this series and that the margins in this best-of-7 could be razor thin. And if that’s the case, do you feel comfortable paying the price on Tampa Bay?

Michael Leboff covers the NHL and more at The Action Network — a sports media company that builds products and creates content to inform and entertain the sports bettor.

Listen: NHL Fantasy on Ice podcast with guests from The Action Network

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