Game 5 between the Vegas Golden Knights and Montreal Canadiens is on tap tonight from the T-Mobile Arena in Nevada, with the semifinal series tied 2-2.
Let's get to it.
Another day, another massive playoff favorite — as if this series isn't tied and hasn't hit us with two straight overtime games and three straight one-goal games.
I'm what you might call a superstitious bettor — which I know is probably a cardinal sin of betting, but it's one I admittedly commit time and time again. I say that to say, when I see the Knights being favored -250, I instantly think there's some kind of trap here. Montreal was winning Game 4 up until the third period, and they still had a chance to win in overtime. The team has also suffered some tough puck luck (and some very questionable officiating, but that's neither here nor there) that has made their play look worse than what they've actually put on the ice. Yes, Vegas, on paper, is the better team and should be favored in this series. But this is the playoffs we're talking about. -250 is too much chalk for any team at this stage.
On the flip side, however, it's the playoffs, so things aren't as simple as taking that +195 juice and running with it. Lots of folks took the heavy juice with the Islanders in Game 5, only to watch the Lightning throttle them, 8-0 at home.
It's tough to pick a side at this stage of the game — especially in this tightly contested series between the Habs and the Golden Knights.
This series has its odd narratives too, alongside those eye-opening odds. For one, there hasn't been a SINGLE power-play goal since Game 1! Vegas forwards have been colder than the ice they've been skating on! How does Montreal not get a call in their favor! Literally every game this series has either pushed or gone UNDER the total!
If you've followed this column during these playoffs, you probably know where I'm going with all this. TEAM VARIANCE, ASSEMBLE!
Well, assemble, but only if Chander Stephenson gets cleared to play.
I'm sure there are plenty reasons why Vegas' forwards have had nary a whimper on the scoresheet lately, but a big reason has to be Stephenson's absence. I have no doubt that if the speedy center were available, the likes of Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone would awaken and take some of the slack off the shoulders of Knights' defensemen — especially Alex Pietrangelo, who's been playing hero hockey out there. Stephenson is a game-time decision as of this writing.
If Stephenson suits up tonight, I like the OVER tonight. There's been some heavy chalk on the OVER play the last few games even though each has pushed or gone UNDER. Something's gotta give here, and I don't think this whole series will go without featuring a (relatively) high-scoring game. Not to mention, the Habs' have deserved some better puck luck on the offensive side; Game 1 could've easily gone over if some pucks had bounced their way. They've been extremely unlucky when it comes to goals for.
Now, with all that said, if Stephenson sits out again, I find value in the puck line for the Canadiens. Nothing in what the Golden Knights have shown their past few games gives confidence to the idea they'd be able to put the Habs away by a multiple-goal margin in Game 5. To its credit, Montreal bounced back after their 4-1 Game 1 loss to win Game 2, 2-1, in Vegas, no less, and they kept the Knights at bay through two games in Canada. Giving the Habs a 1.5 goal cushion at just -140 seems like a gift, especially when you consider their away numbers. Overall, Montreal went 20-16 against the spread this season outside of the Bell Centre, and they've gone 4-1 ATS in their last 10 games.
Again, Stephenson is the X-factor here, the way Pacioretty was in Vegas' series against Minnesota. The centerman's return or absence will dictate the route I take here in Game 5.
Pick: IF STEPHENSON PLAYS — OVER 5 (-145) / IF STEPHENSON IS OUT — Montreal Canadiens +1.5 (-140)