The Action Network is providing NHL.com readers with odds and analysis for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Today, a look at Game 3 of the Semifinals between the Vegas Golden Knights and Montreal Canadiens.
Golden Knights at Canadiens Odds
Golden Knights Odds: -165
Canadiens Odds: +135
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Note: If you’re new to betting, the Knights’ -165 odds mean a $165 bet would profit $100 if they win the game. Conversely, the Canadiens’ +135 odds mean a $100 bet would net $135. Convert odds using The Action Network’s Betting Odds Calculator.
Oddsmakers, pundits and fans were all in agreement ahead of the Stanley Cup Semifinals between the Montreal Canadiens and Vegas Golden Knights. The Habs are a wonderful story, but the Knights — fresh off a season-defining upset of Cup favorites Colorado — would be a bridge too far for the biggest longshot of the postseason.
And while picking the Knights to win the series seemed like the reasonable thing to do, betting on hockey has much more nuance to it than just “picking winners.” One of the first, and most important steps for any new hockey bettor is to learn that everything in betting comes down to price and probabilities. In this case, Vegas’ -165 odds translate to a 62.3% chance to win Game 3 in Montreal. That turns the question from “who is the most likely team to win this contest?” into, “do the Knights have a 62.3% chance to win on Friday night?”
Coming into this showdown the general consensus was that the most viable path to success for the Canadiens was that Carey Price would have to steal the series. While that is certainly true to some extent, it perhaps underrates Montreal a little bit.
At one point during the regular season the Canadiens were considered a bona fide contender. They came out of the gates hot and their 5-on-5 metrics were off-the-charts good, adding legitimacy to their start. The wheels came off a bit, though, as Montreal dealt with injuries and a compressed schedule down the stretch. Those factors caused the Habs to cool off both on the ice and in the betting market ahead of the postseason.
Midway through Round 1 it started to become clear that that team, the one that scorched to a 9-4-2 record and a league-best 56.6% expected goals rate through its first 15 games of the season, could still be in there. After coming back to knock off the heavily-favored Leafs in Round 1, Montreal dominated Winnipeg in Round 2, outscoring the Jets, 14-6, and posting a 63.9% expected goals rate in the four-game sweep.
Those numbers would always be nearly impossible to replicate against the Knights, who posted a 59.4% xG rate against the best 5-on-5 team in the NHL in Round 2, but it did give Habs’ backers reason to believe that this team could be worth betting against the Knights because the price would be so high.
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.
With every signal pointing to Vegas in this series (plus, the fact that the Knights play in the Sports Gambling Capital of the World), the odds on a Golden Knights series win got a bit out of hand in the build-up to this best-of-7. Vegas was higher than -500 at some sportsbooks, the highest price we’ve seen thus far in the postseason. You can’t argue that the Knights didn’t deserve to be big favorites, but hockey is a sport filled with variance and a best-of-7 series is such a small sample that it’s hard to stomach the idea of laying -500 ($500 bet would win $100) on any team.
The Golden Knights were impressive in their Game 1 victory, but the scoreline certainly was a bit flattering. The Knights finished the game ahead slightly on expected goals at 5-on-5, but it was actually the Habs who won the expected goals battle, 4.4-3.39, in all situations. The difference in the game was that Marc-Andre Fleury stood on his head, especially early on. There’s no time for moral victories in the Stanley Cup Semifinals, but at least Montreal skated with the Knights for a good chunk of the series opener.
If Montreal’s performance in Game 1 was encouraging, then its showing in Game 2 was downright impressive. Not only did the Habs win, 3-2, but they also controlled play at 5-on-5, winning the expected goals battle, 2.78 to 1.95 at even strength. Part of the reason Montreal had so much success at 5-on-5 was because of the absence of Chandler Stephenson.
The Knights’ No. 1 center was a late scratch in Game 2 and exposed one of Vegas’ few flaws — its depth down the middle. Without Stephenson, Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty struggled to find time on the puck and both stalwart wingers were held to an expected goals rate under 30%.
So much of Vegas’ success hinges on Stone and Pacioretty dominating when they’re on the ice, so Stephenson’s injury looms large over the rest of the series and whether he plays or not will have a decent impact on the odds.
Injuries aside, the lesson from Games 1 and 2 is that the gap between these two teams, in their current form, may not be as wide as the odds suggest. After being listed at +200 or longer for the first two games of the series, the price on Montreal has come down to +135 for Game 3. When you convert that price to implied win probability, you come out at roughly 42.6%.
Betting against an elite team like Vegas is nobody’s idea of a fun time, but these Habs have proven to be a pesky bunch and are no strangers to upsetting the odds this postseason.
Michael Leboff covers the NHL and more at The Action Network — a sports media company that builds products and creates content to inform and entertain the sports bettor.