Free Picks: Montreal Canadiens vs. Vegas Golden Knights, 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals

Curtis Rush
NHL Free Picks – Best Bets of the Week
Canadiens vs Golden Knights Playoffs Semi Finals
Canadiens vs Golden Knights, Semi FInals, Canadiens win series 4-2

The Montreal Canadiens eliminated the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in overtime on Thursday to complete an upset over the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Semifinal Series. Artturi Lehkonen was the hero, scoring the winner early in overtime. The Habs won the series in six games, which was a stunning result considering Montreal was the worst among the 16 clubs to begin the playoffs. They beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1 after falling behind 3-1 in the series and then swept the Winnipeg Jets in Round 2.

Series Results: Canadiens win series 4-2

The Montreal Canadiens are off to the Stanley Cup Final after knocking off the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 Thursday night on a goal by Artturi Lehkonen at 1:39 of overtime. The Canadiens won the series in six games. They will face the winner between the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning. That series will be decided in Game 7 Friday night. The Canadiens won the final two games of the series with Vegas to close out the series, becoming the first Canadian team since the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 to reach the Stanley Cup Final. The Canadiens last won the Stanley Cup in 1993. The Cup Final begins on Monday.

Game 1

June 14, 09:00 p.m., T-Mobile Arena

Montreal is the hottest team in the playoffs. They’ve won seven straight after going down 3-1 to the Maple Leafs in Round 1. They rebounded to knock off Toronto in seven games and then took out Winnipeg in four straight.

But their Cinderella run may be over. Vegas looks too deep and Montreal has no offensive superstars. But that means that Vegas cannot focus on just one or two players. Montreal’s best player is Carey Price. The former Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s best goalie might be able to steal two games alone.

Each team will rely on defense and goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury is a finalist for the Vezina, and the 36-year-old is 8-4 with a 1.91 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and one shutout in 12 starts.

Price, who won the Vezina in 2015 and was a finalist in 2017, is 8-3 with a 1.97 goals-against average, a .935 save percentage and one shutout.

This series is going to come down to goaltending because neither team has anyone among the top 10 in playoff scoring. But the forward lines are balanced on each side.

Vegas has 16 players with at least one goal while Montreal has 12 players with at least one goal. Both teams have six top defensemen to go along with two world-class goalies.

Vegas is going to come at Montreal in waves at times. If Montreal does a good job of limiting their quality scoring chances, they might frustrate the Golden Knights into making mistakes. The Canadiens are a very good counter-puncher.

A key storyline to follow will be Vegas forward Max Pacioretty, who played his first 10 NHL seasons with the Canadiens and was their captain from 2015-18 before being traded to the Golden Knights for Nick Suzuki, who has been one of Montreal’s shining lights during this postseason with four goals.

On the injury front, Montreal defenseman Jeff Petry (hand) is doubtful for Game 1.

When I make my BetPicks, I often project a score. I’m calling for Vegas to take the opener 4-2 at home. But I think Montreal will win one or two games in the series.

For my Picks and predictions, I look at the main markets: Money Line, Puck Line and Over/Under.

The NHL odds favor Vegas (-1.5) on the Puck Line (+106) with 10Bet and I’m taking that one because it has the best balance of risk and reward. Montreal (+1.5) is the underdog (-134, 10Bet) Against The Spread, and this is the bet to take if you think the Habs can win or keep their losing margin to one goal.

The riskiest bet is Montreal on the Money Line (+205) with 10Bet. They may win one or two games in the series, but I don’t see them stealing Game 1. Taking Vegas (-270) Straight Up with 10Bet looks like a sure thing, but it’s expensive at almost three times your potential payout (bet $270 to win $100). That’s not considered a good long-term strategy.

I’m taking the Over (5.5) with 10Bet (+108) because I think Vegas comes charging out of the gate and will be whipped up by the capacity crowd at T-Mobile Arena. But the Under (-137) has better implied odds and that’s the bet to take if you believe this will be a battle of the goaltenders.



Game 2 (Golden Knight leads series 1-0)

June 16, 09:00 p.m., T-Mobile Arena

The Montreal Canadiens had a great start in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup semifinals with the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday night, but once Vegas found their legs, this was a mismatch. Vegas took the game handily 4-1 and ended Montreal’s seven-game winning streak.

Montreal goalie Carey Price was not terrific, but he was good enough to keep the game closer than it probably should have been. He was a victim of Vegas’ ability to make cross-seam passes to move him side-to-side and allow juicy openings. Price allowed four goals in a game for the first time since a 5-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 2 of Round 1 on May 22.

At the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury was at his athletic best, diving and scrambling to make key saves and frustrate the Canadiens.

Montreal badly needs a split on Wednesday in Game 2, or they must at least keep this game close to put doubt in the minds of the Golden Knights, or this could be a short series. I think Montreal is good enough to win one or two games in this series, but I think it will happen in Montreal. Vegas looks unbeatable at home.

In Game 2, Montreal can’t allow Vegas to take the lead and dictate the pace. Game 1 was the first time Montreal trailed since the start of its seven-game winning streak. The Canadiens haven’t been used to playing from behind. Their defensive structure is built around taking a lead and choking off their opponents’ offense the rest of the way.

Vegas is good at not only applying pressure from the forward group but from the defense as well. Vegas had three defensemen score in Game 1. Defensemen have scored eight goals for the Golden Knights in the playoffs to lead the NHL.

When I’m making my BetPicks, I sometimes try to project a score. I think Carey Price and the whole Montreal team is better on Wednesday, but I see Vegas winning 3-1, perhaps with an empty-net goal.

That’s why I’m leaning toward the Under (5.5) with 10Bet  (-100) rather than the Over (-126), although I think these teams are still feeling each other out, and it’s hard to know whether Game 1 is an indication of how the series will play out.

I would stay away from Vegas (-270, 10Bet) on the Money Line. It is too expensive at almost three times your potential payout (bet $270 to win $100. But if safety is important, this is the safest bet you can make at implied odds of 73%.

The riskiest bet is taking Montreal (+205, 10Bet) with the Money Line because the odds are so stacked against them. For my Free picks and predictions, I think the Puck Line is the lean in Game 2.

The NHL odds have Vegas (-1.5) favored (+102, 10Bet) and I think that’s the bet to take. If you think Montreal (+1.5) wins or keeps the margin of defeat to a goal (-129), then go with them Against The Spread for a bit more safety.



Game 3 (series tied 1-1)

June 18, 08:00 p.m , Bell Centre

The Montreal Canadiens scored first on Wednesday and it paid off.

Unlike in Game 1, when Vegas got on the board first and forced Montreal out of their game plan, the Habs were able to play to their strengths in Game 2 after getting the early lead. They were able to slow the pace of the game down and then rely on goaltender Carey Price the rest of the way.

The Canadiens got a boost from defenseman Jeff Petry, who had an assist in 20:47 of ice time. He had not played since injuring his hand in Game 3 of the second round against the Winnipeg Jets.

Despite the win, I got the impression that Vegas just ran out of time. If the game had gone on for five minutes more, I think Vegas would have won this game. They just couldn’t erase a 3-0 deficit in time.

In the third period, Vegas outshot Montreal 17-7 and did everything except force the game into overtime. Over the final two periods, Vegas outshot Montreal 27-11. It was just a tough hill to climb for Vegas.

When I’m making my BetPicks predictions, I look at the NHL game odds and try to predict a score. For my NHL picks today, I see Vegas winning 4-2 at the Bell Centre in Game 3. I said before that I think the Canadiens will win one or two games in  this series, and they got their one win. I don’t know if they can win another.

The formula for success is just too hard to repeat. They have to score first. That will allow them to play a good team game. And then they have to hope that Price stands on his head.

The Over/Under has been set at 5, so I’m taking the Over (-133) with 10Bet. The Under (+105) has a bit more risk, so I’m going to avoid this one.

I think Montreal and their fans will be charged up on Friday and for Game 4 on Sunday, but I don’t think it’s enough to carry them. The Habs look beaten up to me. Vegas is not only fast but they are bigger and more physical. This will take a toll on Montreal as the series moves on.

For those who believe in Montreal  (+135, 10Bet) on the Money Line, this is on the risky side with implied odds of 43%, so go lightly here.

For more safety, I would bet Montreal (+1.5) on the Puck Line (-213) with 10Bet. This bet pays off if Montreal either wins or keeps the margin to one goal in a loss.

Betting Vegas (-1.5) Against The Spread (+165) with 10Bet is the riskiest play on the board with implied odds of only 38%, but I’m taking this based on how strong Vegas played in the final two periods of Game 2.

If you’re like me and think the Habs had their one shining moment and Vegas will now take over the series, I would lean toward Vegas on the Money Line (-165) with implied odds of 62%.

Over 10 games, I would expect Vegas to win seven of them, or 70%, so these odds represent good value to me. If they start Game 3 the way they finished Game 2, Montreal could be in for a long night and a short series.



Game 4 (Canadiens lead series 2-1)

June 20, 08:00 p.m., Bell Centre

This is a sports betting nightmare. The best team didn’t win again on Friday night. I had picked Vegas to take Game 3 and the Golden Knights were two minutes away from victory when everything turned upside down. Vegas was leading 2-1 when a shocking thing happened.

Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in the NHL, lost the puck in his feet in a clearing attempt and allowed Josh Anderson to stuff the puck into a wide-open net with 1:55 left in regulation time to tie the game 2-2.

Then Vegas got caught on a bad line change and Anderson and Paul Byron broke in alone on Fleury in overtime, with Anderson taking a nifty pass at the goalmouth and beating Fleury to give the Canadiens a 3-2 victory and a 2-1 series lead.

The trouble with Fleury is that he gets careless sometimes. And with so little work in the game, he lost his sharpness and got lazy. At the time, Vegas had outshot Montreal 39-17. They were in command the whole game. Vegas took the first 12 shots and outshot Montreal 17-3 in the first period and 30-8 through the second.

And to show you how luck sometimes plays a big part  in the playoffs, Anderson’s first goal was his first in 13 games. He had been a non-factor in the series.

The best player for Montreal again was goaltender Carey Price, who made 43 saves, although he didn’t look good on the goal by defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who notched the go-ahead goal for Vegas from long range.

Teams that take a 2-1 lead are 57-18 (.760) winning a best-of-seven Stanley Cup Playoff semifinal series. So those NHL odds clearly favor Montreal. And I don’t think you would be wrong placing your bets with Montreal. The way they stole Game 3 could swing the momentum in their favor.

But here’s how I see it. Montreal didn’t win the game as much as Vegas lost it. Had Vegas not shot themselves in the foot, they would be leading this series, and I find it hard to believe Montreal can win two more games largely on luck.

But Montreal looks like a good bet for two reasons: Carey Price is more reliable than Fleury, and Montreal’s penalty killing is shutting Vegas down. Vegas was 0-for-4 on the power play and is 0-for-10 in the series. Montreal has killed off 25 straight penalty minutes.

For my BetPicks predictions, I think Marc-Andre Fleury’s confidence might be rattled, and Montreal will likely test him early in Game 4.

If you think Montreal has the right formula for playoff success against Vegas, betting Montreal Straight Up (+140) with 10Bet is the play. But go lightly because the implied odds give Montreal only a 41% chance of winning.

For my Free Picks, I am sticking with Vegas (-175, 10Bet) on the Money Line. I think they will win Game 4 by a 3-1 score. With the Over/Under set at 5.0 goals, I am leaning toward the Under (+104) with 10Bet. The Over (-132) is enticing, but as the series goes on, I think both teams tighten up even more.

The safest bet is Montreal (+1.5) on the Puck Line (-205) with implied odds of 67% that Montreal will either win or keep the margin to one goal in a loss. But that is expensive (bet $205 to win $100).

The NHL game odds favor Vegas (-1.5) on the Puck Line (+159, 10Bet) but this is the riskiest bet on the board with implied odds of only 38%. Go lightly here if you like these odds.


Game 5 (series tied 2-2)

June 22, 09:00 p.m., Amalie Arena

Nicolas Roy scored 1:18 into overtime on Sunday night, and saved the bacon of the Vegas Golden Knights, who had fought back from a 1-0 deficit to tie the game midway through the third period.

Before the game, Vegas made the gutsy move by replacing Marc-Andre Fleury with Robin Lehner in the Golden Knights goal. Coach Peter DeBoer insisted the move had nothing to do with Fleury’s bone-headed play in the final two minutes of the previous game. He said he made the move partly based on Fleury’s heavy workload during these playoffs.

Lehner was playing his first game for Vegas since May 30 in a 7-1 loss to Colorado, but the decision turned out in favor of Vegas. Lehner made 27 saves while Carey Price made 19 saves for Montreal, which had won two straight games and eight of nine.

I’ve always liked Vegas to win the series and I maintain they are the better team. But Montreal has really surprised me. Going into the third period, I started to believe they would win and take a 3-1 stranglehold in this series. Montreal is disrupting Vegas’ flow by being quick on pucks and having checkers on top of the Vegas forwards as soon as they touch the puck.

I also like Montreal’s penalty kill. They have not allowed a power-play goal in 11 straight Stanley Cup Playoff games. They are 26-for-26 on the penalty kill and have scored three shorthanded goals over that span. The biggest problem for Montreal is they still need to find a way to score more goals. They have only eight in four games, while Vegas has 10.

Vegas hasn’t had great production out of their forwards, but their defense is really stepping up. Seven Golden Knights defensemen have scored in the 2021 NHL playoffs, tying the NHL record shared by several teams.

When I make my BetPicks, I look at the main markets, including Puck Line, Money Line and Over/Under. For My Free Picks, I see Montreal winning 2-1.

The NHL playoff odds still favor Vegas (-1.5) on the Puck Line (+115) with 10Bet. But I’m staying away from the spread. Other than the first game of the series, all games have been one-goal affairs. But if both teams stay that close for Game 5, taking Montreal (+1.5) with 10Bet (-146) would be a safer play.

On total goals, I like the Under (5.0) with 10Bet (+104) because none of the games have seen the total go over five goals. The Over with 10Bet (-132) is a little risky for my books.

I was tempted to take Vegas Straight Up (-255) with 10Bet but that’s very expensive, with this bet costing you over two times your potential payout (bet $255 to win $100). So I’m going to go with the best betting value and that’s with Montreal in Game 5.

I’m taking Montreal (+195) Straight Up because the sports book has priced the Habs as having only a 34% chance to win, and I think their odds are much higher, perhaps as high as 50%. So if you’re becoming a believer in Montreal like I am, this provides the best value (bet $100 to win $195).


Game 6 (Canadiens lead series 3-2)

June 24, 08:00 p.m, Bell Centre

I got it right in Game 5 by predicting a Montreal victory, although I got the score slightly wrong. I saw the Canadiens winning 2-1. But of course they won 4-1, with an empty-net goal to put the Golden Knights away.

All along, I’ve been saying that I like the Golden Knights to win the series because they are the better team. I still believe Vegas is the better team. But sometimes the best teams don’t always win. Montreal doesn’t have the best players, but they might have the best game plan against a more highly skilled opponent.

The Canadiens play a strong defensive game and disrupt the flow of the Golden Knights. The Minnesota Wild were the same. Their stingy defense pushed that Round 1 series to seven games. Montreal also has Carey Price playing at his best in goal and they are almost impossible to beat when they get a lead.

You could see how frustrated the Golden Knights were. They were banging their sticks, shaking their heads and pretty much looking like they didn’t know how to solve the Montreal defense.

Meanwhile, Montreal looks like they are having fun out there. They have smiles on their faces, and there is lots of chatter on the bench. They will go into Game 6 feeling a lot looser than the Golden Knights. And I like my teams to feel loose. Not to be gripping their sticks too tight.

I’m not suggesting that Montreal is a slam dunk to finish off the Golden Knights in Game 6. I think Vegas will be a desperate team on Thursday and will play their best game of the series. This will be a good test for Montreal. Vegas will not give up without a fight.

If Vegas pulls out Game 6, the momentum will shift back to Vegas. They will be at home for Game 7 and will no doubt be energized by the crowd.

Montreal has two chances to book their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since they won it in 1993. Just like the championship club back then, this Canadiens team has an aura about it. Something magical seems to be happening with them.

That’s why I’m going with Montreal to win Game 6. When I make my BetPicks, I try to predict a score. I see Montreal winning 4-2.

For my Free Picks and predictions, I am taking the Canadiens on the Money Line (+125) with 10Bet. The book is giving you odds that Montreal will win this game 44% of the time and I think the actual odds are higher than that. At least 50%. The sports book is giving Vegas (-155, 10Bet) odds that imply they should win this game 61% of the time.

The NHL playoff odds still favor Vegas (-1.5) on the Puck Line (+178, 10Bet). If you like Vegas to win, this is your biggest payout (bet $100 to win $178). But go lightly here because the implied odds are only 36%. The safest bet is taking Montreal (+1.5) on the Puck Line (-232) with 10Bet, but this is the most expensive bet on the main markets (bet $232 to win $100).

The Under (5.0) is priced at longer odds (+102) with 10Bet than the Over (-129). None of the games so far have gone over five goals, but I think this game has the potential to be higher scoring, so I’m taking the Over.


I live in the land of ice and snow in Toronto, Canada's largest city. I can't skate very well, but I know sports, especially hockey, after a long career writing about the Toronto Maple Leafs and other teams at the country's largest newspaper, the Toronto Star. Betting on sports can be a rewarding experience when you understand the trends and underlying characteristics of the teams and players before laying down a bet. That's how I hope to point you in the right direction.