Handicapping the Bruins-Maple Leafs Game 7

Handicapping the Bruins-Maple Leafs Game 7 article feature image
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Photo: Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) makes a save as Boston Bruins forward David Backes (42) falls into him. Credit: John E. Sokolowski, USA TODAY Sports

A few days ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs looked dead as a dodo. The Buds trailed 3-1 in the series against the Bruins — one of the strongest teams in the National Hockey League. The result looked inevitable when the Leafs headed back to Boston for a must-win Game 5. Not so fast.

Toronto ripped off a pair of wins to force a Game 7.

How did we get here? And how can we use what’s happened so far in this series, on the ice and in the sportsbooks, to help us shape a good play for tonight’s Game 7 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Let’s dive in.

The Market

The B’s are, unsurprisingly, a decent favorite to win the game. At the time of this writing, the books are slapping a -175 price tag on Boston, while you can find Toronto at +155. That line implies the Bruins have a 63.6% chance of winning and the Leafs have a 39.2% chance. Interestingly, the Bruins’ average closing price in their first three home games was -174, so we’ve got a pretty clear view of how the market views these teams in Boston.

Before we dive further into tonight’s numbers, here’s a quick recap of the closing number (according to the Action App) for each of the first six games.

Game By Game

The Bruins looked the part in Game 1, skating to a 5-1 victory. The B’s owned the puck in that game, posting a 65.74 CF% (a metric that uses shot attempts at even strength as a barometer for possession known as Corsi For). They also generated twice the amount (24-12) of scoring chances than the Leafs at 5v5 (adjusted for score + venue). Expected goals (xG) tells a slightly closer story, as the Bruins generated 2.97 xG compared to 2.21 from the visitors.

After closing at -157 (61% implied probability) in Game 1, the Bruins unsurprisingly closed as a bigger favorite in Game 2. Not only did Boston look great in the opener, but the Leafs also lost top-six stalwart Nazem Kadri to a three-game suspension. Interestingly, money came in on Toronto before the second game, and the Leafs closed at +145 after opening +151, according to the Action App. Boston eventually won, 7-3, in a very peculiar game, as Toronto owned the shot share and created more adjusted scoring chances at 5v5. The Leafs also won the xG battle at 5v5 (adjusted), 2.27 to 2.24. Unfortunately for Toronto, it allowed four goals in the first period, so this one was over before it started.

Game 3 was the only tilt that saw the Leafs close as favorites, and they came through for chalk bettors with a 4-2 win. A fair result, as the possession battle was close, while Toronto generated more scoring chances at 5v5. A couple of days later, the Bruins closed as -120 road favorites after a late Patrice Bergeron scratch caused the line to move from -135 to -120. The B’s still won without their star forward, but they were lucky. The Leafs saw a lot more of the puck at 5v5 in Game 4 and created more scoring chances and expected goals.

The Leafs weren’t playing badly, but with their backs now against the wall heading into Game 5 on the road, the market went into a tizzy. Boston opened -170 ahead of the first elimination game, but was steamed all the way up to -200. Sure, the Bruins are the better team and were at home, but that number implies that Boston had about a 67% chance of winning, which is bananas. All told, the Bruins were very unlucky not to close the show in five. They outshot the Leafs 45-21, generated 5.50 expected goals and dominated the puck. Yet, they lost, 4-3, because Toronto’s goalie, Frederik Andersen, stood on his head and spat out wooden nickels all night. Why is hockey so batty? Well, this was probably the Bruins’ best game of the series and they lost.

Two nights later, the Bruins were slight favorites on the road and lost in a back-and-forth contest. All told, the Bruins have a legitimate claim to being more deserving of the win. They had much better possession numbers and created more scoring chances at 5v5 — but Andersen delivered once again, and that’s all you really need in hockey.

The Value

The Bruins are the more likely team to win, but does that mean you should bet them? Bettors often make the mistake of betting a team and not a number. That bad habit can be especially tempting in a one-off contest such as a Game 7.

At the current number, you’d need to be convinced Boston wins 65% of the time or more to see value in backing the B’s. On the other hand, if you think the Leafs win this game 40% of the time, bet Toronto. For me, it’s hard to argue against the Leafs at the current price.