We've finally arrived: Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Let's get to it!
Montreal Canadiens (+165) @ Tampa Bay Lightning (-200) — Total: 5
Welcome to the 2020-21 Stanley Cup Final!
On one side, we have the reigning, defending Stanley Cup champions, the powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning!
And on the other, we have ... the Montreal Canadiens?!
Yes, the sarcasm is evident there, but not because I think the Canadiens don't belong here. It's because they've been disrespected time and time again by oddsmakers and the betting public all playoffs, and here they stand again, staring down (or in this case, up) at yet another overwhelming favorite — this time, for all the marbles.
And I get it, the Habs stumbled into the playoffs. They were one loss away from falling to the Toronto Maple Leafs. But all that said, we need to stop ignoring what this Canadiens team has done since then. Taking down the Oilers. Sweeping the potent Jets. Upsetting a Golden Knights team many thought was heading straight towards the Final after beating the Colorado Avalanche.
And Montreal did all of that in a fashion that wins Cups: with stifling defense, elite goaltender play, disciplined skating with an even more impressive penalty kill, and electric offense when needed.
If I was creating odds for this game, I would favor the Lightning — they've earned it, especially at home — but not at -200. This will be the toughest test Montreal has faced in the playoffs up to this point, but if it was up to me, I wouldn't go past -175 for Tampa Bay, with +125 juice for the Habs.
Yet, they're getting +165 at BetMGM. You probably know where I'm going with this.
I, too, underestimated the Habs early on. I underestimated Carey Price's ability to turn things around. I underestimated how the team would not only follow interim head coach Dominique Ducharme's defensive system, but embrace it. I underestimated the impact rookie Cole Caufield would have on offense.
I learned my lesson in Game 2 of their series against the Vegas Golden Knights. I won't underestimate them again.
This game will feature strength against strength: Tampa Bay's elite power play vs. Montreal's suffocating penalty kill (and their aforementioned discipline, as Montreal hasn't really been taking penalties of late). Nikita Kucherov's continued health will also be a narrative here, as the Lightning's power play loses some of its potency with their star forward compromised (as he was in Game 7 against the Islanders) or off the ice).
The Habs have gone 6-2-1 their last 10 games as an underdog, 4-1 against the spread away from Montreal. Another key note: you have to wonder if Montreal has realized that it has only beaten Tampa Bay once in their last 10 meetings. Bulletin-board material? Maybe. But something to keep in mind.
There's a ton of value here in Game 1 on a Habs team that apparently hasn't earned more respect in the eyes of the betting community. The -165 puck line isn't that bad either, especially when you consider how Montreal has yet to allow more than two goals their last five games.
The big bad Lightning have earned the right to be big favorites — but the Canadiens don't deserve to be a big underdog.
Pick(s): Montreal Canadiens ML (+165) / Montreal Canadiens +1.5 (-165)