Underestimated Lightning screams Stanley Cup Final value

For the first time since 1993, the Montreal Canadiens are in the Stanley Cup Final, and a nostalgic feeling has come over hockey fans across Canada. However, while the current iteration of the Canadiens have been following a script similar to that of their predecessors, they’re not the main characters.

This is not an underdog story as much as it’s a story about how pundits, fans — and bettors — are underestimating the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second year in a row.

Much like the Dallas Stars in 2020, the Canadiens defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in under seven games, despite being big underdogs. Now, just like the Stars, the Canadiens find themselves with more favorable odds versus the Lightning, the best team in hockey, and that doesn’t add up. Therefore, instead of trying to find links between current events and those that took place almost 30 years ago, bettors should look no further than the finale of the 2020 playoffs for insight.

The Canadiens play a style that is comparable to that of the Dallas Stars as they, too, have a strong defensive posture that makes it tough on opposing teams to generate chances off the rush. The problem here is that, like the Stars, the Canadiens are probably going to be spread thin against a deep Lightning team.

For example, one of the Canadiens’ biggest weapons has been their top forward line. They haven’t been lighting it up offensively, but Artturi Lehkonen, Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher have been shutting the opposition’s best players down. According to Natural Stat Trick the trio has yet to allow a goal in almost 100 minutes of five-on-five ice time together in these playoffs.

However, they’ll almost certainly be tasked with shutting down the Lightning’s top line, which have been dynamic to say the least. Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat are going to be nearly impossible to stop, and even if the Canadiens are successful, they’ll have other problems to deal with.

Nikita Kucherov hoists the Stanley Cup with Tampa last year.
Nikita Kucherov hoists the Stanley Cup with Tampa last year.

Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli and Yanni Gourde are all capable of chipping in offensively at any moment, and the Lightning have several players on the back end who can influence the outcome of a given game. Not only that, but Andrei Vasilevskiy has been outstanding in net and looks to be on a mission to prove any of his leftover doubters wrong. Carey Price is determined to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time, but don’t doubt Vasilevskiy’s desire to drink from it again.

At BetMGM, the Lightning are listed as a -250 favorite to win the series. That’s a big drop-off from the -475 price that the Golden Knights carried into the last round. The Canadiens were the value play in that series but not now. The Lightning’s odds of winning the series should be closer to -330.

There is also value to be found in some of the many betting markets that are derived from the aforementioned series price. At DraftKings, bettors can lay -118 on the Lightning to cover the series spread of 1.5 games. If the Lightning win in six games or less, that’s a winning wager. I estimate it’ll happen about 59 percent of the time, so the odds should be closer to -145.

Additionally, there is value in betting on the Lightning to cover the 2.5-game spread at +190, which can be found at William Hill. It’s another value play, as the Lightning should win the game in five games or less about 40 percent of the time or +150.

Andy MacNeil analyzes the NHL for VSiN programming can be heard on iHeartRadio platforms.

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