Our NHL consultant provides us with an intriguing Eastern Conference Semifinal series preview between Tampa Bay and Montreal. This revealing piece culminates with a selection on who he predicts will advance to the Conference Finals.
NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals
Tampa Bay Lightning versus Montreal Canadiens
In what shapes up to be a very entertaining playoff series, the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning will collide for a right to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. According to the NHL betting odds at Bookmaker, Montreal is a -115 money line favorite to win the series, and Tampa Bay is listed at -105. The Lightning are coming off a closely contest 4-3 series win over the Detroit Red Wings in their first round series. Montreal disposed of the Ottawa Senators in six games during their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup. The Lightning owned the Canadiens during the regular season by winning all five encounters. Tampa Bay outscored Montreal by a cumulative score of 21-8 and held a huge 191-125 shots on goal advantage in those five contests.
Unless something unforeseen occurs, the Lightning will ride with their #1 goaltender Ben Bishop in this series. Bishop has gone a stellar 44-22 this season and compiled a solid .917 save percentage. During his seven starts during the Lightning’s quarterfinal series win over Detroit, Bishop had a 1.87 GAA, .922 save percentage, and recorded one shutout. Bishop was 5-0 versus Montreal during the regular season, and compiled a stellar .936 save percentage in those outings. When the Lightning were swept by the Canadiens in four games during the 2014 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Bishop wasn’t available due to an injury he sustained late in the regular season, and it was surely a major contributor to the Lightning being eliminated in such an abrupt manner.
The Canadiens Carey Price is a finalist for both the Vezina Trophy for the league’s best goaltender, and the Hart Trophy which goes to the NHL Most valuable Player. Price posted an outstanding 1.94 GAA and compiled a terrific .939 save percentage. Price turned in a huge clutch performance in Game 6 at Ottawa, turning away all 43 shots on goal by the Senators during a series clinching 2-0 win. Price has gone 48-24 in seventy-two starts this season with a .934 save percentage, and earned seven shutouts.
I’m going to use my special team’s efficiency rating index pertaining to this category. My numbers indicate that the Lightning has a very narrow edge in the special team’s comparison. I have a rating of 101.2 on Tampa Bay and 98.6 on Montreal. That difference of +1.6 favoring Tampa Bay is miniscule, and doesn’t carry a lot of weight when assessing a possible edge.
There will be an enormous amount of pressure on Carey Price in this series. He’ll have to steal at least one if not two games in order for Montreal to prevail. Price is certainly capable of the task at hand, but he’ll need some scoring help from teammates somewhere along the line. Tampa Bay was the top scoring team in the NHL during the regular season, and Montreal really struggled to score with any regularity in the latter part of the year. I like the value on the underdog in this series, and that will be one of my NHL picks.
NHL Pick: Tampa Bay -105 in the series over Montreal