Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Prediction: Game 2 Picks
Most hockey fans still don’t know how the Montreal Canadiens made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. Some order was restored in the minds of casual observers, as the Tampa Bay Lightning won game one of the Stanley Cup Final in convincing fashion.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Prediction
Tampa Bay Leads 1-0
We all know the story of the Montreal Canadiens at this point. Montreal was the worst team to qualify for the postseason based on regular season point percentage. They were down three games to one in their first round series against the heavily favored Maple Leafs. The Vegas Golden Knights were nearly -500 favorites to eliminate Montreal in the semifinal round.
Despite all of this, and despite the fact that they’re scoring less than 2.5 goals a game in these playoffs, Montreal is still here and playing for the Stanley Cup.
Hockey fans can’t quite explain while Montreal is here, with a lot simply chalking it up to a “cinderella-run” or “luck.” These same people were probably relieved and feeling vindicated watching game one, as the Lightning defeated Montreal by a score of 5-1. The Lightning led almost all night and were clearly the better team en route to their convincing victory.
If you look at the metrics from game one, they paint the picture of a game closer than the final score would indicate. Montreal had almost a 47% expected goal share and they generated just one less high danger chance than the Lightning at 5-on-5. Carey Price was not his usual self for Montreal between the pipes and then Tampa Bay’s high-end talent took over.
The scariest part for Montreal is the fact that their team strengths likely don’t give them much of an advantage over the Lightning.
Montreal has the best penalty-killing unit in these playoffs, having gone 30 straight kills without giving up a goal entering this series. On the other side, Tampa Bay was converting on nearly 40% of their powerplay opportunities in the first three rounds.
When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, what happens? Well, in game one, the Lightning scored a powerplay goal. It took them three chances, but Tampa Bay did find the back of the net with the man advantage which is probably a bad omen for the Habs.
A lot has been made about Carey Price’s resurgence in these playoffs, and for good reason. He’s probably the main reason why Montreal has been so effective in shorthanded situations. Your best penalty killer has to be your goalie. Price has been tremendous through the playoffs, stopping 92.8% of the shots he’s faced while posting a +10.5 goals saved above expectation (GSAx) for Montreal.
However, he’s not the best goalie in this series. The Lightning have the better goalie. Andrei Vasilevskiy has been nominated for the Vezina trophy for four straight seasons. He led all goalies in GSAx during the regular season this past year. In these playoffs, he ranks first with a 93.6% save percentage and +23.8 GSAx.
Price has given Montreal a goaltending advantage for most of these playoffs, but it’s hard to imagine a world where he vastly outplays Vasilevskiy. The most realistic outcome that Montreal could hope for is that they cancel each other out, which only highlights the disparity between the two teams.
During this playoff run, a lot has been made of the depth in Montreal’s forward unit. They have standout young players like Cole Caufield, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki. They have solid middle-six forwards like Tyler Toffoli, Brendan Gallagher and Josh Anderson who can contribute in multitudes of ways. They have older depth players going through a mini-resurgence in Corey Perry and Eric Staal. They have some of the league’s best grinders with Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia.
However, the Lightning are just as deep. Just look at their fourth line, which features the still dangerous Tyler Johnson. Their third line is arguably the best in the league, featuring Yanni Gourde, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman. The main separator between the two forward groups is the elite talent. The Lightning have Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos, forwards who could all be considered number one options on most teams in the league. The Canadiens don’t have a single player near their level, let alone three of them.
If Montreal decides their best course of action is to try and slow the game down and turn it into a low-event coin flip, Tampa Bay is okay with that too.
Simply think back to the Lightning’s last series against the New York Islanders. In game three of that series, the scene shifted to Long Island where the Islanders were looking to establish their defensive presence. Tampa Bay beat the Isles at their game, winning that contest by a score of 2-1. This was highlighted even more in game seven, where the Lightning knocked off the Isles by a score of 1-0 thanks to a shorthanded goal.
If you want to play defense all night, Tampa Bay will do that too. Victor Hedman is a force. Ryan McDonagh, Erik Cernak, Mikhail Sergachev and David Savard are solid top-four options. They also have Andrei Vasilevskiy.
It’s not an ideal matchup for Montreal, and it seems like the oddsmakers agree. Tampa Bay is a consensus -210 favorite for game two. This is too much juice to lay in a NHL playoff game, so we’re required to look at other ways to back the Lightning. You can bet Tampa Bay to win in regulation at -122, or you can bet them to cover the 1.5 goal puck-line at +135. I’ll lean towards the Bolts covering the puck-line due to the plus-money payout.