Stanley Cup Final: Game 5 preview and best bets
Our NHL expert, Andrew Berkshire, previews Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning.
It took four games, but the Montreal Canadiens finally solved the Tampa Bay Lightning, right? Well, not really.
A dramatic 3-2 overtime victory has been the first sign of life from the Canadiens in this series, and head coach Dominique Ducharme is getting loads of credit for his adjustments between Games 3 and 4. Moving Josh Anderson up to the top offensive line with Nick Suzuki produced two goals, including the game winning goal in overtime, while Jake Evans and Alexander Romanov both factored into the Habs’ other goal after being inserted into the lineup.
All told, that’s a pretty excellent day for coach Ducharme, on the surface. The reality of the situation was that the Canadiens were nearly run out of the building in the first period, but Carey Price was spectacular, and the Lightning finally had a stretch where things didn’t go their way.
Early in the game, after several great saves from Price, Brayden Point hit the post on a point-blank one-timer just outside the crease, and Nikita Kucherov caught a cross-ice pass with the heel of his stick and just narrowly missed a yawning cage. Those were the kind of breaks the Canadiens simply have not been afforded in this series.
After a bit of a stronger second period, the Canadiens were once again holding on for dear life in the third period, and overall it was the worst defensive performance we’ve seen from the Canadiens in this series, but Carey Price stood strong.
Where Ducharme should get some credit is sparking the offense a little bit. The Canadiens didn’t get much offense to speak of overall with how hard the Lightning pressed all game long, but moving Anderson up to the Suzuki line unquestionably sparked the power forward, who was dynamic all night long.
Adding Anderson to the top offensive line had another impact as well - it opened up Cole Caufield a little bit, who has struggled a fair amount in this series because the Lightning have been all over him, denying time and space. With Anderson’s speed and physicality creating some extra room, I’m betting Caufield finally gets his first goal of the Stanley Cup Final in Game 5.
The Lightning absolutely refused to let their foot off the gas pedal in Game 4. The killer instinct they have throughout the lineup was on full display in tying the game twice at possibly back-breaking times, and when Shea Weber took a four-minute high sticking call at the end of regulation, it seemed destined that the Lightning would win the third Stanley Cup in team history, and second in a row.
What ended up happening though, was the Canadiens pulled off an incredibly gutsy four-minute penalty kill, and immediately capitalized when they got their own chance to end the game. In fact, the Canadiens have been winning the battle against the Lightning’s vaunted powerplay, killing off 10 minutes of shorthanded time in Game 4, and cutting Tampa Bay’s 30 per cent shooting percentage with the man advantage in these playoffs to 11 per cent. Bet on that to continue in Game 5, where I don't think the Canadiens will allow a powerplay goal.
Through the first three games of the series, nearly every bounce went Tampa Bay’s way. That is not to say they haven’t earned where they are, because they’ve easily been the better team, but it has been an easier series than it should be. Considering how well it’s been going, it makes sense that they were very business-like and didn’t show much frustration in Game 4, but if they continue to not get the breaks they were getting, expect the Lightning to take more penalties in Game 5, so bet the over.
It is an incredibly unlikely scenario that the Canadiens can complete a comeback against a team as strong as the Lightning, but usually when a team is on the ropes, they have one game where they throw everything against the wall to stave off elimination. Game 4 wasn’t that for the Canadiens - their goalie stole one. Because of that, I expect the Canadiens to spoil the party one more time and win Game 5 to send the series back to Montreal.
Check out the latest NHL odds at Betway USA.