The Montreal Canadiens' season is no longer lost thanks to the NHL's expanded Stanley Cup playoff tournament, as they prepare to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday in Toronto's Scotiabank Arena.
This is Game 1 in a best-of-five series between the Eastern Conference's fifth and 12th seeds. Whoever wins will advance to the Round of 16 and take on one of the East's four best clubs.
Continue reading for abe Insights' betting preview, which features important statistics, wagers analysis and more to consider before you lay down money on this exciting matchup.
Date: Saturday, August 1
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBC; CBC
Implied Probabilities: Canadiens 42%; Penguins 61%
Spread: MTL +1.5 (-175); PIT -1.5 (+175)
Moneyline: MTL +140; PIT -155
Former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner Carey Price is the shining ray of hope Montreal can cling to in a series where the Habs will be big underdogs. With Price guarding the crease, he can keep the Canadiens within striking distance in any given game.
The goalie situation could be a real advantage for Montreal if this season is any indication. Typical Pittsburgh starter Matt Murray struggled in splitting time with Tristan Jarry, posting a career-worst .899 save percentage in 38 starts.
69 vs. 59: Injury issues have forced the loaded Penguins to reshuffle their lines all season. That's partly to blame for their pedestrian No. 20 rank in first-period goals. Montreal is in the NHL's top five in that category, and could really benefit from a fast start.
20.6 vs. 10.0: Hopefully the hiatus gave the Canadiens time to reflect on how to clean up their power play. Their success percentage out of 50 chances with the man advantage since the All-Star break is the latter figure here — and was easily the worst in the NHL. Pittsburgh was considerably better in 14th place.
81 vs. 66: Montreal conceded the seventh-most third-period goals in the league in 2019-20, whereas the 'Guins were No. 9 in fewest allowed. If it's close entering the final 20 minutes, the scoring stats say Pittsburgh should be favored.
As underwhelming as Murray has been for the Pens over the past two years or so, let's not forget he's still only 26 years old and has a history of clutch, elite play in the postseason. He posted a 15-6 with a 2.08 GAA during the 2016 playoffs en route to the Stanley Cup title.
"Matt has obviously shown an ability to be at his best when the stakes are high," said Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan after deciding to start Murray in Game 1, per DKPittsburghSports.com's Dave Molinari.
Price did everything short of standing on his head the last time Montreal was in the playoffs, which was back in 2017. Despite a 1.86 GAA, the Canadiens bowed out after six games, so strong goalie play is no guaranteed winning formula without scoring support.
The Habs do boast a decently balanced and productive offense. Six players logged at least 40 points, led by Tomas Tatar (61). But the Pens have no shortage of household names and prior Stanley Cup champions, which could make all the difference.
Superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been leading their attack for years, and right winger Bryan Rust stepped up to post his highest point total (56) in 2019-20 — and led the club with 27 goals. Rust more than capably filled in for Phil Kessel after the latter All-Star forward got traded to Arizona this past summer.
After being pretty banged-up all season — most of their core stars missed double-digit games — the Penguins are healed up and ready to roll. Their advantages on special teams and tenured leadership should help their cause, too.
There's a lot of evidence to suggest the Penguins are worth wagering on when it comes to moneyline and spread. A long layoff may have been what Murray needed to recover from his shaky form — or it could mean that'll be exacerbated by rust.
Price is always an X-factor, yet despite his best efforts, the Canadiens have gone years between playoff berths. It seems since both these clubs' offenses are so strong and rife with scorers, the goals total bets should favor the Over.
Note: Odds current as of 1:15 p.m. ET on Saturday, August 1.
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