With other leagues easing into their season after the COVID shutdown, the NHL is jumping right into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The qualifying round matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens might be the most one-sided of the eight series with the Penguins holding a 15-point bulge with nine more victories than their opponent during the regular season. Of course, the regular season was over four months ago and neither team has played a competitive game since the shutdown, so I guess anything can happen. Oddsmakers like the Penguins’ chances to advance pegging them as a big favorite.
We'll have NHL odds at BookMaker.eu available for every game of the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens Series Schedule
Game 1: Canadiens vs. Penguins, Saturday, August 1, 2020, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 2: Canadiens vs. Penguins, Monday, August 3, 2020, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 3: Penguins vs. Canadiens, Wednesday, August 5, 2020, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 4: Penguins vs. Canadiens, Friday, August 7, 2020 (If Necessary)
Game 5: Canadiens vs. Penguins, Saturday, August 8, 2020 (If Necessary)
Series Price at BookMaker.eu
Montreal Canadiens +184
Pittsburgh Penguins -220
The numbers from before the shutdown significantly favor the Penguins. They were just one of five teams to reach the 40-win mark and missed out on an opening round bye by a measly three points. Pittsburgh won nine more games than the Habs, had 15 more points, and played two fewer games. The Pens’ plus-28 goal differential was the second-best in the Metropolitan Division and fourth-best in the entire Eastern Conference.
It was a rather stunning display by the Pens, but we’ve gotten used to that over the years. This season was probably a little sweeter. Despite every key player missing time due to injury they still went 40-23-6. Leading scorer Evgeni Malkin tallied 25 goals and 49 assists for 74 points in 55 games. Bryan Rust also played 55 games and topped the squad with 27 goals. The top four scoring forwards missed a combined 86 games.
The guys on the backend weren’t immune either. The top three defensemen in terms of average ice time – Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin and John Marino – all missed time. No matter who the Penguins put on the ice they just won games. Having the big guns back makes them not only a favorite in this series but also to win Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Add in proven big-time performer Sidney Crosby along with the acquisitions of Jason Zucker, Conor Sheary and Patrick Marleau around the trade deadline and the Pens have the potential to overwhelm the Habs on the offensive side. Pittsburgh averaged 3.2 goals per game during the season to rank 10th.
Back when the games were being played the Canadiens were not in position to play in the postseason. As such they made a flurry of moves at the deadline to build for the future. No one knew at the time that the pandemic would play with the entire league standings leading to a 24-team postseason tournament. With the fewest points of any team in the reimagined playoffs, the Habs were the last team in the tournament. Montreal lost a lot of depth jettisoning Nate Thompson, Ilya Kovalchuk, Nick Cousins and Marco Scandella at the deadline.
If there’s one area where Montreal may have an edge it’s between the pipes. Former league MVP Carey Price didn’t post his best numbers this season, but for a team that finished 31-31-9 they weren’t awful. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, we know who’s starting for the Habs.
The picture isn’t so clear on the other side. Matt Murray had a .899 save percentage in 38 starts and Tristan Jarry has yet to play a postseason game. We’ll probably see two-time Cup champion Murray open the series but don’t be surprised if he’s on a short leash.
Player to Watch
There are several, but for the Canadiens to have any chance they need Price to stand on his head. A hot goalie can steal a short series and that’s what the Habs are counting on. They don’t have the firepower to match Pittsburgh needing to play a textbook defensive game to have a chance, and that’s where Price comes in. He will need some help, but when Price is at the top of his game he can be a difference-maker.
Penguins vs. Canadiens Free Picks
Pittsburgh won the last two games of the three-game regular season series outscoring the Habs 7-3 in that span. With the team back at full strength it’s the Pens’ series to lose. Montreal can go balls out since they weren’t even a playoff team before the ‘rona. That underdog mentality might be worth one win, but not the series.
Penguins vs. Canadiens Series Pick: Penguins in 4 Games
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