The venue shifts to the Bell Centre after the Lightning claimed victories in the first two games of this best-of-seven Stanley Cup series. Let’s analyze this Game 3 matchup and determine if the Habs have what it takes to hang tough at home on Friday night and keep cashing our NHL picks!
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens
Friday, July 2, 2021 – 8:00 PM EDT at Bell Centre
Getting blown out, 5-1, in Game 1 was a disaster for the Canadiens but a case could be made that their 3-1 loss on Wednesday night was a far more bitter pill to swallow. The Canadiens outshot the Lightning, 42-23, yet still came up on the short end of Game 2 in Tampa.
Although down 2-0 in the series the Canadiens will now get an opportunity to avenge those defeats in front of their home fans. Unfortunately, the uber-cautious Quebec health officials have denied a request to increase the capacity from 3500 to roughly 10,000 fans which would be about 50 percent capacity of the Bell Centre.
This is the first time in nearly 30 years the Habs have been to the Stanley Cup Finals and despite COVID flaming out, and tens of thousands jamming the streets outside the arena, Canadian officials are having none of it. There is no doubt more fans filling the stands would be a boon for Les Habs but 3500 fans will have to make enough noise to make their team feel at home.
Lightning Strikes Again
Anthony Cirelli struck first with a seeing-eye wrist shot from the point that found its way through three Montreal defenders and meandered under the blocker of Carey Price for an unlikely and unspectacular goal. Once again, Price was hopelessly screened and didn’t see the puck until it was too late. This has been a pattern over the first two games and although the Lightning didn’t manage too many shots, you can’t save what you can’t see.
Speaking of which, the Canadiens would get a strikingly similar goal nearly four minutes later on the power play when Nick Suzuki back-handed a dribbler from the point that managed to roll through traffic in front, deflecting ever so slightly off of Tampa defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s stick, before finding daylight through the five-hole of the virtually impenetrable Andrei Vasilevskiy. This proves once again, even the best can’t save what they can’t see.
In the waning moments of the second period, Tampa’s Barclay Goodrow stole the puck at mid-ice and drew two defenders to his side as he slid the puck to a driving Blake Coleman on the other wing who took a one-armed swipe at the puck as he was hauled down from behind. Price was beaten over his outstretched pad and blocker after his defenders were outworked by the hustling duo of Goodrow and Coleman in what proved to be the game-winning goal.
After several stellar saves by Price in the third period, the Lightning’s final goal manifested because of miscommunication between the Canadiens behind their own net. Once again, Montreal was outhustled by the Lightning as an opportunistic Ondrej Palat swooped on the loose puck and tapped it off the skate of an unsuspecting Price. Final score: Lightning 3 – Canadiens 1.
Wanna Make a Bet?
The venue will favor Montreal but will they be deflated after dominating in the offensive zone but only beating the sublime Andrei Vasilevskiy once on Wednesday night? Perhaps the diminutive Montreal rookie, Cole Caufield, said it best, “I don’t think you need the perfect shot right now in this situation. We’ve got to stick to what works, and that’s doing the right things that we can, what we can control: Get people in front of him so he can’t see it, getting rebounds, getting guys to the net — stuff like that.”
And that pretty much sums it up. Traffic in front and screen the goalie. Despite Price allowing three goals on 23 shots, he had several sparkling saves and can really only be blamed for not saving the third goal. However, Vasilevskiy is unconscious and his ability to continue to turn aside whatever Montreal can throw at him has to be getting in the minds of the Canadien attackers.
The NHL odds at all of the best online sportsbooks are installing the visitors as anywhere between -132 and -135 favorites. As bad as Montreal was beaten in Game 1, they came back and should have won Game 2 on the road. A change of venue and several damaged members of the Lightning should turn the tide in their favor in what is an absolute must-win for the Habs. Let’s grab the juice and make the books pay.
NHL Pick: Canadiens +115 at Bet365