Hockey fans in Montreal were hoping for a storybook ending to Saturday’s Game 6 and they got exactly that. It had been 444 days since fans attended an NHL game in Canada, and although the Bell Centre crowd was only 2,500 strong, there was a lot of energy in the building.
The Canadiens were able to dictate the play for the second game in a row and, just like in Game 5, they were able to capitalize on a Maple Leafs turnover and come away with an overtime win. Now, the series that many people had written off as one of the biggest mismatches of Round 1 has become a toss up as it shifts back to Toronto for a winner-take-all Game 7.
Prior to the series, I predicted the Maple Leafs would win the series 73 percent of the time in an average of 5.6 games. DraftKings currently lists the Maple Leafs as a -215 favorite and BetMGM offers Toronto -225, which suggests not a lot has changed in terms of the perceived strength of these two teams.
Since my series handicap aligned with what sportsbooks were offering, I didn’t make a wager prior to the first game. I did get involved in Game 2 and have made a couple of in-game wagers at long odds, but for the most part I have just observed the two teams in an effort to determine if my handicap should be adjusted to favor the Canadiens more than it did originally, and I’ve decided it indeed should be tinkered with.
Toronto dominated Games 2 and 3 after losing captain John Tavares, to injury, but the Canadiens improved their forecheck and decision-making with the puck over the course of the next couple of games, giving the Maple Leafs far less time and space to work with.
Auston Matthews has been kept off the scoresheet in four of the six games, with only one goal and three assists, while Mitch Marner has been held without a point three times and still doesn’t have a goal in the series. William Nylander and Jason Spezza have been the most reliable players for Toronto, and while secondary scoring is definitely needed to win a playoff series, betting on the Maple Leafs stars to do something that they haven’t been able to do all series without receiving some incentive from the bookmaker to do so, just doesn’t seem like a smart strategy heading into Game 7.
At even strength, the Maple Leafs have owned only 51.5 percent of the shot attempts and 53 percent of the scoring chances. That’s not nearly enough of an edge to justify their big price tag, and therefore, bettors should consider only a moneyline bet on the Canadiens here.
With the Canadiens odds sitting at around +180 at most sportsbooks, there’s some value in betting on the Canadiens to complete the comeback and win Game 7, though bettors should not expect this to be an easy win by any means.
The Canadiens needed overtime to get their last two victories and still haven’t dominated any game in the series, but the margins by which most of these games have been decided by has been so thin that doing anything other than taking a big price with the Canadiens seems illogical. All of the pressure is on the Maple Leafs, who haven’t won a postseason series since 2004. Given what we’ve seen thus far in this series and in past seasons, bettors should feel comfortable betting on Toronto to fall short again.
Andy MacNeil analyzes the NHL for VSiN.com. VSiN programming can be heard on iHeartRadio platforms.