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Montreal Canadiens vs. Vegas Golden Knights Series Odds & Pick: How to Bet Stanley Cup Semifinal After Game 1

Montreal Canadiens vs. Vegas Golden Knights Series Odds & Pick: How to Bet Stanley Cup Semifinal After Game 1 article feature image

Ethan Miller/Getty Images. Pictured: William Carrier (left) and Carey Price.

Canadiens vs. Golden Knights Odds

Canadiens Series Odds +750
Golden Knights Series Odds -1200
Total Games 5.5
Over/Under +125 / -165
Time | TV Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET
Odds as of Tuesday and via bet365

We spent the entire season not having to worry about these inter-divisional matchups. Familiarity became our friend in this space, as it became really easy to predict what moneyline prices would be for any matchup within any division.

So imagine my shock when the prices came out for the Montreal Canadiens and Vegas Golden Knights series and opening game on Monday night. It seemed excessive, but could we know for sure? The Habs and Knights hadn’t been frequent opponents at the best of times, and unlike the other semi-final matchup, there wasn’t a bubble meeting to try to glean anything from.

Game 1 gave us our first data point between these teams and though it was a 4-1 victory for the heavily favored Golden Knights, I’m more with betting on the Canadiens via some derivative prices than I was before the series started.

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Pre-Series Assumptions Build a Market

The Canadiens spent the season just trying to get by.

They dealt with a coaching change one-third of the way through the season and brutally condensed schedule that enabled injuries to pile up in the final third of the campaign. Even with those issues, the Habs put up more than reasonable metrics including 53.2% of the expected goals (xG) at even-strength in the North Division. 

Obviously, the key word is the “North” and the presumption that the Canadian franchises were all second-class to the rest of the NHL — like the vaunted group of Californians (Kings, Ducks and Sharks) were some sort of murderers’ row. Vegas took advantage of a division that had five legitimately bad teams and joined rival Colorado atop the NHL’s point standings, on the way to building even-strength metrics of 53.2% xG share.

Sound familiar?

As good of a season as the Golden Knights had, they still were big underdogs in Round 2 to the Avalanche. Vegas was full value, though, in taking the series from Colorado by winning four straight after dropping the first two.

But was it enough that a -500 series price tag should have come with them to this Stanley Cup semifinal?

What was a now-healthy and rested Canadiens team supposed to do to prove their worth in the playoffs? How about three straight wins against the regular-season division winners to stun their archrivals? Was a clean sweep in dominant fashion over the Jets not good enough? What about a near historic streak of never trailing?

Nope, none of that registers. 

Meanwhile, bettors have rolled out the red carpet for the Golden Knights a little more than a week after wanting nothing to do with them against Colorado. This is a Golden Knights team with a history of disappointing bettors, even in victory. Last season in the bubble, Vegas struggled to convert their numerous chances while heavily favored against the Vancouver Canucks, eventually winning in seven games, but proving not profitable as a result. The Knights were then eliminated by the underdog Dallas Stars.

This season, they had the same issues with the Minnesota Wild, going seven games and making the Wild a profitable game-by-game bet.

The Golden Knights are the better team in this series with the Canadiens but like these examples of the past, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be profitable even in victory.

Expected goals (also known as xG) is a predictive statistic that gives an indication of whether results are based on sustainable factors like a steady creation of scoring chances, or whether it is down to aspects such as shooting luck or outstanding goaltending.

Simply put, an expected goals rate (xGF%) above 50% is considered good because it means a team is creating the majority of the scoring chances. Anything below 50% is usually a sign that a team is struggling to control play.

xG numbers and advanced stats cited from Evolving Hockey, MoneyPuck and Natural Stat Trick.

Game 1: Behind The Scoreboard

Vegas paid out those brave enough to back them at -250 or higher in Game 1, but that very easily could have gone differently.

The Canadiens were supposed to be intimidated and flustered by the home crowd in Vegas. Like a down-on-his-luck poker player, the first full house they’d experienced in over a year. Instead they generated seven high-danger chances in the first period to just one for the Golden Knights.

Fortunately for the home side, not only did Marc-Andre Fleury turn all of those chances aside, but they got a little lucky when Shea Theodore tossed a semi-harmless shot toward Carey Price only to see it go in thanks to a screened star goalie. The Habs had 1.65 xG at even-strength in the period, but the reality didn’t come close to meeting expectations as they didn’t score. The Knights went to the locker room with a 1-0 lead, a far better expectation from their 0.28 xG through 20 minutes. 

From there, it was all Vegas, which was buoyed by a lead it didn’t deserve. The Golden Knights continued to pressure Price and while the Habs’ MVP made a series of incredible saves, the Knights earned their win in Game 1.

Vegas played to 1.61 xG at 5-on-5 the rest of the way and exceeded that with three goals at even-strength. All in all, Vegas and Montreal each finished the game just shy of two xG 5-on-5. Montreal scored zero times, and the Knights tallied four. 

Whether it’s Game 2 of the Stanley Cup semifinals or a midweek game in February, if two teams are going to play evenly with two xG each but one team is -270 and the other is +220, you make the bet on the underdog and ask questions later.

In the one game data point we have now for this matchup, it’s only confirmed what we all hypothesized, that the value is on Montreal. 

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Betting Analysis & Pick

Will the Canadiens win Game 2? Will they come back and win the series?

The answer to both those questions is the same as it always is in sports: maybe.

I’ll certainly be backing Montreal in Game 2 based on the information above. However, when it comes to the latter question, we can’t ignore that while our original hypothesis hasn’t changed, the circumstances have with Vegas taking the 1-0 lead, and as a result are that much more likely to get to four wins first.

In the derivative markets though, not much has changed with the unsurprising Vegas win. A Game 1 win means a lot less to series bets in the total games markets, or series handicap markets. Vegas being up 1-0 doesn’t shouldn’t alter the likelihood of the series going six games or more in a meaningful way. However, because the 4-1 score inspires more confidence in bettors looking to back Vegas, we’re seeing some prices in those series derivatives. 

I’m looking to add to a position on the Habs at a series spread of both +2.5 games at +115 and +1.5 games at +290. Alternatively, the series to go Over 5.5 games is available at +125, and that’s an even better option than the +2.5 +115 bet as the only way that series goes less than 5.5 games and Montreal covers +2.5 games is if the Habs win four straight and win the series in five.

I can’t even be that optimistic. 

Pick: Series: Over 5.5 Games (+125) | Canadiens +1.5 Series handicap (+290)

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