The Action Network: Lightning vs. Canadiens, Game 3 odds, analysis

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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 Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens.

Lightning at Canadiens Stanley Cup Final Game 3 odds

Lightning odds: -140
Canadiens odds: +115
Over/Under: 5
Time: 8 p.m. ET

Note: If you’re new to betting, the Lightning’s -140 odds mean a $140 bet would profit $100 if they win the game. Conversely, the Canadiens’ +115 odds mean a $100 bet would net $115. Convert odds using The Action Network’s Betting Odds Calculator.

For the first time since Round 1, the Montreal Canadiens have their backs against the wall. After dropping Games 1 and 2 at Amalie Arena, the Habs are a loss away from falling into a seemingly insurmountable 0-3 hole against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final. Game 3 is a must-win spot for the Canadiens.

Oddsmakers are certainly not writing off the Habs, just yet. Sure the +900 (10% implied win probability) series moneyline seems like a longshot, but Montreal’s +115 odds for Game 3 imply it could win this contest 46.5% of the time. That price may surprise people when you consider that the Habs just lost the first two games of this best-of-7 series against the defending champions by a combined six goals, but it’s basically inline with what we saw in Game 2 after you adjust for home-ice advantage.

And while Montreal has lost the first two games of this series by an aggregate score of 8-2, the Habs haven’t looked all that lost at 5-on-5. Frustrated, sure, but definitely not lost. So far, 96 minutes of the Stanley Cup Final have been played at 5-on-5. In that timeframe, Montreal has been outscored, 7-1, but has a +0.52 expected goals differential. The problem is that the Habs’ xG edge is due to their volume of shots, rather than the quality of their chances. Montreal has a 97-74 edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5 in this series, but the high-danger scoring chances are square at 14. Additionally, Tampa has scored two goals from high-danger chances, while Montreal has none.

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.

If Tampa’s strategy looks familiar, it may be because we saw the Habs execute a similar gameplan against the Golden Knights. In that series, Montreal allowed Vegas to control possession, but would do everything it could to prevent the Knights from getting into the high-danger areas. By flipping the script on Montreal, the Bolts are daring the Habs to beat them with skill more than hard work and discipline. That’s the problem with trying to get by the Lightning, they are like a chameleon that can play any style of hockey just as well, or better, than basically every other team.

As I said above, this is a must-win contest for the Habs. Throughout the build-up to the game you’re going to hear a lot of folks say, “If Montreal is to win a game in this series, it has to be this one.” But just because a team is in a must-win situation doesn’t mean they are going to be victorious. In fact, sometimes that kind of narrative can cause folks to overrate a team’s chances.

One thing that could provide some context for handicapping Friday night’s contest in Montreal is the market for Game 6 between the Islanders and Lightning. In that game, which was played on Long Island, the Bolts closed as -148 favorites. Of course Tampa was just coming off an 8-0 win ahead of that contest, but it does make you question why the Habs are being offered at a shorter price than the Islanders. And that makes you wonder if there’s a chance you could be getting the Lightning at a slight discount thanks to the Canadiens’ must-win narrative ahead of Game 3.

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.

Listen: NHL Fantasy on Ice podcast with guests from The Action Network

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