Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Prediction: Game 1 Picks
The Stanley Cup Final has arrived. The greatest trophy in sports will be awarded sometime in the next two weeks as the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens face-off to see who will get the honor of hoisting Lord Stanley. Read on to see my Canadiens vs Lightning prediction for game 1.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Prediction
Series Tied 0-0
As a fan of the New York Islanders, I hate the Tampa Bay Lightning. This is now back-to-back seasons where they’ve broken my heart in the semi-finals. With that being said, there’s little doubt over who the model franchise in the NHL currently is.
The Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2020, they set regular season records in 2019, they made it to the conference finals in 2018 and 2016 and they made it to the Stanley Cup final in 2015. In 2021, they’re back in the Stanley Cup final looking to defend their championship from last year.
The motivation for the Lightning is high, as winning a championship in the pandemic year of 2020 certainly could raise questions. People talk about asterisks all the time with the shortened format and bubble environments. Fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Lakers have dealt with similar questions. Additionally, the celebration and party associated with winning a championship was definitely muted during the pandemic, so the Lightning definitely want to win again so they could celebrate appropriately with their city and fans as the world reopens.
On paper, most would pick the Lightning to win this series. They have the name recognition and the pedigree the Habs don’t possess yet. In fact, the Lightning are -275 favorites to win the Stanley Cup, the second largest finals favorites in the last 20 years.
Most hockey pundits respect the path the Lightning took much more than the path required of the Canadiens. The Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes were two borderline elite teams in the Central Division that the Lightning needed to knock off. In the semi-final, the Islanders are one of the tougher teams in the league to wear down.
For Montreal, there was little to no respect for the North Division up in Canada all season long. Many saw the division as a circuit filled with flawed teams with no true Cup contenders amongst the bunch. Even through two rounds of their Cinderella run, the Habs were not getting much respect from the hockey world. It wasn’t until last round, Montreal’s defeat of the Vegas Golden Knights, that the world started appreciating the Habs’ run.
Montreal is an underdog in this series, and that shouldn’t phase them. They shocked the hockey world coming back from down 3 games to 1 against the Maple Leafs as heavy underdogs. They were underdogs in round two against the Winnipeg Jets at the start of the series. At the start of the semi-finals, some books had Vegas as -500 favorites to eliminate Montreal. What’s one more round as an underdog?
These teams are actually built similarly. The one problem for Montreal is that the Lightning are simply better at almost every level.
One of the main storylines for this series will be the two goaltenders. Carey Price has burst back onto the national scene to stake claim to once again being one of the best goalies on the planet. Many considered Price as the world’s best goalie about five years ago, but his play regressed over the past few years. However, in these playoffs, Price ranks second with a goals saved above expectation of +12.2. It certainly appears Price is back on top of his game.
Unfortunately for Montreal, Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy is the one goaltender who has had a better playoff run than Price. Vasilevskiy leads the postseason with a goals saved above expectation of +22.8. Vasilevskiy blanked the Isles in game seven of the last round in a 1-0 win. He has been nominated for the Vezina trophy for four straight seasons. By all accounts and purposes, he is the current best goalie in hockey.
Both teams have tremendous forward depth and possess four lines that can impact the game. Unfortunately for Montreal, they don’t have a forward like Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov or Steven Stamkos. Tampa Bay possesses three elite talents up front, while it’s hard to argue the Canadiens have any. Montreal hopes one day the likes of Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi can approach that level, but putting them in that tier currently would be premature.
The Lightning and the Canadiens both have solid defensive cores. However, Victor Hedman is a more game-changing and dominant number one defenseman than Shea Weber. It’s also hard to argue that the Lightning don’t have a slight advantage in terms of depth. Ryan McDonagh, Erik Cernak, David Savard and Mikhail Sergachev is a deeper and more talented group than Ben Chariot, Joel Edmundson and Jeff Petry.
Another key matchup in this series will be the Tampa Bay Lightning powerplay against the Montreal Canadiens penalty kill. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? We shall see.
The Lightning are converting on nearly 40% of their man-advantage opportunities in these playoffs, while Montreal has killed off 30 straight penalties, an NHL playoff record. Opponents are converting on just 6.5% of their powerplays against the Canadiens. A lot will depend on the health of Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov left game six against the Islanders after one shift and didn’t return. He played in game seven, but was largely a non-factor and was visibly impaired.
It’s no surprise to see the Lightning installed as significant favorites in this series. If you asked me to pick a winner with no odds involved, Tampa Bay would be an easy answer. I don’t think it’s a hot take to say the Lightning win this series more often than they lose.
If you followed my pre-season advice (https://www.oddschecker.com/us/picks-parlays/hockey/nhl/20210112-nhl-futures-picks-season-preview-predictions), you’re sitting pretty with a 30-1 ticket on Montreal right now. At this point, I’d recommend hedging out and guaranteeing yourself a sizable profit. However, for those without a Habs future ticket, it might not be as easy or fun.
With the current price for game one showing Montreal as +170 underdogs, they are clearly the side with value here. Montreal loses this game more often than they win, but at +170 odds, you don’t need them to win over 50% of the time.
In an interesting note, Tampa Bay has lost their first home game in all three previous series. Tampa Bay has a 6-3 home playoff record this season, and a 6-3 road playoff record. It doesn’t seem like this is a team that gains much from home-ice advantage as some other teams do.
For my main Canadiens vs Lightning prediction, I’d look towards Montreal here as a substantial underdog, but I also would look towards an under. With Price and Vasilevskiy on top of their games, I expect a low-scoring opener.